Making the Jackie Collins Inspirational Woman of the Year Award 2017

Making the Jackie Collins Inspirational Woman of the Year Award 2017

This is presented every year by the cancer charity Penny Brohn UK. For the last two years, I have been asked to carve the award itself, using pieces of timber from a cedar tree which grew in the grounds of the charity's offices in Bristol. Each award is different in design and effort is put into making each one personal to the person receiving it. In 2017, the recipient was the perfume designer Jo Malone. Her new line of fragrances uses the scent of pomelo as its keynote and so I came up with some designs based around the leaves and flowers of pomelos. There were a few considerations that influenced the design of the award. Jo is a practical person, so it needed to be a useful object. It also had to be created from a piece of cedar that I already had, left over after making the award for the previous year. The piece was also going to be engraved with an inscription suggested by Jo's personal assistant: Passion, Resilience and Creativity. A bowl was the perfect, practical item to make. Pomelo leaves are quite distinctive; they have a second pair of leaf lobes coming out from the stalk (or petiole) and so
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Predator Bird’s Skull

Predator Bird’s Skull

After making a few 'Metainsects', I started to think about what kind of predator would adapt or evolve to feed on such ornery little beasties. What would they look like?     With an anatomy-themed exhibition coming up, I started to carve a bird's skull, but one that would eat tough, large and potentially dangerous insects. The skull is quite chunky and crested, so the bird would almost certainly be flightless but probably a good runner. It has a large braincase, so would be smart. The whole skull is about 25 centimetres (approx. 10 inches) long.     The nozzle on the beak would fire a sticky mucus that would disable the defences of the prey. This is adapted from a similar system used by a seabird called a fulmar, which shoots foul-smelling secretions at potential attackers from a similar nozzle over it's beak. The large beak would then be able to pick apart the prey. The skull part was carved from a single block of sycamore. The beak and nozzle are carved from a piece of English boxwood. The stand is stained oak and bamboo. I really enjoyed carving the 'Predator bird's skull'. It gave a chance to revisit my studies in Zoology and the anatomy of
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Self portrait  2013

Self portrait 2013

This was carved from a piece of a big Lawson Cypress tree that was cut down next to Ashton Court mansion in Bristol. The work was part of a landscaping scheme, but was very controversial at the time. It's nice to think that some of the timber has gone to a creative use instead of rotting away.   I'd wanted to try carving a self portrait for a while, as it's a real challenge for a carver to get right. Using a piece of such an iconic Bristolian tree also reflects my affection for my adopted home town. After milling it into usable pieces on site (with permission), the timber was also being used in many projects that I was working on at the time. I got the chance to make a self portrait with an exhibition called 'Cornucopia' at the Grant Bradley Gallery in Bristol, UK in 2013. Portraits are pretty tricky things at the best of times, but self portraits show a bit more of your 'soul'. I suppose that's why so many artists have had a go at them: it's a real test of skill and technique. However, on the plus side, the model is always there and works for free!     Many
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Libby Houston 2014

Libby Houston 2014

This portrait of the well-respected poet and botanist Libby Houston was carved into a large oak bench that I designed and made. which is now sited on the Clifton Downs in Bristol. The leaves that she is holding are from a Houston's Whitebeam, a sub-species of Whitebeam tree (Sorbus spp.) which is only known from a single specimen growing in the Avon Gorge near Bristol. Libby discovered the tree and it has been named after her. When Libby visited, she brought the leaves with her for me to copy in carvings on the bench and also very kindly explained what made them distinct from similar trees. Whitebeams are deciduous, meaning that the leaves are shed by the tree every autumn (fall). Therefore obtaining these leaves hadn't damaged the tree at all. After she had left I realised that, since there is only one specimen of this tree known to exist, they must be leaves from the world's rarest tree.  
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Totem pole 2012

Totem pole 2012

This totem pole shows things that are important to the person who received it - a collection of personal totems including an owl, a horse and a trout.     The piece was carved for a commission in 2012 and is now installed in the New Forest, Hampshire. It was a lot of fun to carve but also quite a challenge, as it includes a portrait of the person that it was a present for. This was the first portrait that I had been commissioned to carve. The pole is carved from durable European Larch, grown in the local area to my workshop. It is 14 feet (4 m 20 cm) tall in total, with 4 feet (1m 20cm) going underground when installed.     I couldn't meet him in person to take measurements and so the portrait had to be done solely from photos, which were all taken at different times in his life. I never got to meet either the person who commissioned it or the subject of the portrait carving, so have no idea how close the likeness is!     Apparently he likes the carving though, which is what everyone wanted.
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Bench on the Clifton Downs 2015

Bench on the Clifton Downs 2015

This bench is the largest single project that I have taken on to date, being 2.5 metres (8 feet) long and weighing well over half a ton. It was commissioned by the Clifton and Hotwells Improvement Society in Bristol and was installed in June 2015. The wood is oak that originally grew on a farm outside the village of Backwell, about seven miles from where the playground where the bench has been situated. The bench is quite unusual, as the site that it has been placed on is part of Clifton Down in Bristol. The Downs Committee, who oversee the running of the area, hardly ever give permission for permanent works of art to be installed there and I feel very privileged to have been given this opportunity.     The bench was almost two years in the making and shows notable people, creatures and structures to do with the area. Researching it myself was fascinating. One carving is a portrait of renowned poet and botanist Libby Houston, who visited my studio a couple of times. Showing her the portrait for the first time was a little nervewracking! Fortunately, she liked it.     Amongst many other subjects, the bench also shows Thecodontosaurus, the 'Bristol Dinosaur', which
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Gramophone weevil 2010

Gramophone weevil 2010

'Gramophone weevil' is one of a series of sculptures combining my interests in Zoology and woodcarving.  The entire piece was made from timber collected, with permission, from Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire. The 'vinyl'  is actually charcoal dust cast in resin (and in case you are wondering, I haven't tried playing it!)     'Gramophone Weevil' imagines a future world where modified insects, produced for a particular short-lived role, are easier to come by than scarce vinyl records. This creature has been engineered and produced to play records until it needs to be replaced. The mouthparts are purely adapted to hold the needle that plays the vinyl, as it doesn't have to feed to perform its function.     The sculpture reflects my concerns about some current research projects (specifically the US Defence Department's HI-MEMS project), which look to engineer insects into tools for human use. Considering how much longer insects have been around on this planet, I can't see success in such endeavours ultimately ending well for humans in general. This particular piece was also partly inspired by the amazing VW camper record player in Money Mark's 'Hand in your Head' video.
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Scorpion fly 2006

Scorpion fly 2006

'Scorpion fly' is one of a series imagining the potential results of the 'HI-MEMS' project, currently being undertaken by the US Defence Department. This project is trying to find a way to implant controlling and offensive technologies into insects.     Although most entomologists are sceptical about the chances of success, billions of dollars have been poured into this project. Given the huge numbers of offspring that each insect could potentially produce, I reasoned that the ultimate goal would have to be to implant nanofactories, rather than individual nanodevices to perform whatever job is required of the insect. These tiny factories could then make reproductions of themselves as well as whatever device they were designed to make, with the new factories becoming implanted into the insect's offspring and so continuing the process.     Of course, with both insects and technology reproducing the potential for mutation and rapid evolution also increases, as well as the chances of technologies crossing between species. It would be very hard to keep control of such a process and humans don't have a great record of keeping control of interventions in the natural order: cane toads in Australia being an obvious example. If such creatures could breed and evolve, what would they become?
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Breadboard with hand carved lettering

Breadboard with hand carved lettering

I've made a few breadboards using the beautiful wood from English elm trees. Unlike oak, the timber is quite resistant to splitting and doesn't contain a lot of harsh tannins, so it seemed a good choice from which to make and carve this breadboard. There are only two difficulties: elm is a bit trickier to carve than many other timbers and, since the ravages of Dutch elm disease, it is much harder to find pieces that are large enough to make a board from.     Of course, I'd be happy to make carved boards using other appropriate timbers! If you'd like advice on this or if you'd like me to make and carve a breadboard for you, please feel free to get in touch.
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Wise old elf 2015

Wise old elf 2015

This character was carved as part of a project in Bristol, working with a professional storyteller and a local school to create wooden panels that form a storytelling trail through the school grounds. In July 2015, I was invited to carve oak pictures as part of a project at St Chad's primary school in Patchway, Bristol. The school was looking to get the pupils to generate their own stories. Storyteller Martin Maudsley worked with them to create tales which were then told to me. I used the five stories to produce images that were then carved into oak plaques, which were set onto larch plinths in a small woodland in the school grounds.     One plaque tells a story about a storytelling dragon that befriends a village. At first, the villagers are advised by a little girl to turn their backs, to stop them being frightened by the dragon.     Another shows a person who is helped by birds to plant a magic garden. The small squares are caps of oak covering the stainless steel screws that hold the plaques firmly onto the larch plinths.     This story is about a secret garden hidden by ancient trees, which is uncovered by reciting the magic words.     This plaque shows an old
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‘Naked Grouse’ whisky bottle 2014

‘Naked Grouse’ whisky bottle 2014

In 2014, I was asked to turn and carve oak replicas of the distinctive bottles that 'Naked Grouse' whisky is sold in. They were to be used in the promotional launch of the whisky in the UK. As part of the commission, I also carved the logos of five different bars in the prestigious Mayfair and Marylebone districts of London live in the bars themselves.     The Glasgow-based marketing company  Material approached me during the summer of that year to ask if I could make some oak sculptures as part of a promotional launch. The makers of 'Famous Grouse' whisky were introducing their new premium malt blend, called 'Naked Grouse', to customers in the UK. The marketing centred on the craftsmanship involved in producing fine whisky. The sculptures were replicas of the Naked Grouse whisky bottle, turned and carved in oak which originally grew on the Quantock Hills in Somerset. They were mounted on oak plinths that had LED lights installed to illuminate the bottle.     It was fun doing some woodturning again to make the bottles, especially when an electrical fault in the first lathe shorted out the workshop's electrics!     The labels and embossed grouse design were replicated using a Dremel hand drill. The bottles were then stained
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Ceremonial knife handle 2016

Ceremonial knife handle 2016

This knife handle was carved from oak that originally grew on the Quantock Hills in Somerset. It was commissioned by someone who intended to fix it onto a ceremonial blade for use in pagan rituals. The Norse-style wolf's head on the pommel of the handle is based on a piece of jewellery that the client particularly likes.     It was an interesting challenge to mark out the knot work accurately on the handle, as it sloped from the centre towards each end. The grip was initially turned on a lathe, then the central hole drilled, the pommel was roughly shaped and then the knot work carved with a knife. I felt that this knife worked finish gave more of an authentically 'Viking' look to the whole thing and it was also very comfortable to hold, as the handle was held in my hand whilst whittling the different designs. I used a selection of carving gouges to produce the wolf's head, as they suited the shapes that needed to be made more than a knife would have.     The oak was finished using tung oil, as it is more natural and contains less additives than many other finishes.     I have carved several other interesting knife handles. If you
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Carved panels using braille 2016

Carved panels using braille 2016

These oak panels, featuring braille as part of their design, are part of a permanent installation at the Brunel building in Southmead hospital - a major healthcare facility in Bristol. Initially, the commission was to make an artwork that would include words and phrases chosen by patient's knitting and writing groups as being important to them. As part of the making process there also had to be an opportunity for patients, visitors and staff to try their hand at carving parts of it during two hospital open days.     On visiting Southmead, I realised that most wall-hung artworks there didn't really give much opportunity for blind or partially-sighted people to interact with them. They were mainly prints behind glass. Working with guidance from local braille users, together with organisations and blind artists from around the country (particularly Alan Michael Rayner), I designed a touch sculpture that also includes braille as a fundamental part. The Bristol Braillists group were particularly helpful with this area of the project. Paul and Hazel from the group even visited my workshop to give help and advice on the design.     Eventually, the installation developed into three panels. The largest one shows the patient's groups knitting and writing, together with a carver (who might that be?).
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Sgian dubh and Kiltpin 2015

Sgian dubh and Kiltpin 2015

A sgian dubh is the knife traditionally worn with a kilt, tucked into the sock, as part of the Scottish national dress. The name means 'black knife' or 'dark knife' in Gaelic. There are different theories about why the knife is worn. One is that in Scotland's wild past, people visiting others would be unwise to completely unarmed at any time. To show goodwill to their hosts, they would remove this knife and tuck it into their sock. They could still defend themselves if necessary, but their weapons were clearly on display. Another is that the knife was originally a 'gralloching' knife, used to butcher deer. A dead deer was too big to haul off the moors and the stomach contents would immediately start to taint the meat after death, so it was best to cut it up there and then. The blade of my sgian dubh is damascus steel and was bought, as I do not have the equipment or skills to make a good blade of this type. As a carver, I didn't want to wear a substandard blunt knife either! The silver work was done by a talented local silversmith for the same reason. She kindly sent the silver ferrules to
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wood carvingClick on the title of any project shown in the box above to find out more about them. 

Alistair Park is a Woodcarver, Sculptor and Teacher based in Bristol, South West UK.

He is available for private commissionswoodcarving tuition and gallery exhibitions in the UK and internationally.

On this website you can find information about the range of his services and browse current and past work. If you’d like more information about any of the other sculptures or services shown on the site, just click on the image of it to see if there’s a link that you can follow.

Please feel free to get in touch for more information, a quote or to book Alistair for an exhibition.