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Author: Alistair Park

cactus fruit eating kit

Cactus fruit eating kit

In early 2000, I spent some time living on the Canary Islands. The area was arid semi-desert and prickly pear cactus (Opuntia sp.) grew abundantly. The fruits were edible and delicious, but the small, hair-like spines that grew in clusters on them were very painful if they pierced the skin, as well as being very hard to see when trying to remove them.

 

cactus fruit

Image from: http://landscapingchennai.com/nutritional-value-of-cactus-fruit/

I therefore carved a pair of cactus fruit eating tools to safely eat these fruit. They came in extremely useful!

 

wooden cactus fruit eating kit

 

The pronged tool would be pushed into the fruit, then twisted to remove it from the plant. The sharp-edged spoon end of the other tool was used to slice open and peel away the skin of the fruit. The scoop- shaped other end of this tool was then used to gouge out any remaining tufts of hair-like spines. The fruit could be held on the pronged tool and eaten using the spoon-like other tool. Juice ran away down a slit in the pronged tool, which was shaped like a cactus flower.

 

cactus fruit eating kit

 

Stone and Meerschaum Carving

Now and again, I like to try carving something other than wood. Although it must be said that working with timber is where I am happiest, a challenge is always good too. The carving above was shown at the ‘Mythic Garden‘ exhibition near Drewsteignton, Devon in the summer of 2004. Apparently the stone originally came from a wall facing which fell off the ‘Queen’s Building’ at Exeter University years before.

 

Stone carving at the Mythic garden on Dartmoor

 

This is another stone carving, of sorts. It was carved on and off between 1997 and 2002 and is a pipe bowl made of meerschaum that represents the green man, with fruit, birds and a snail hidden in the foliage. These photos were taken before the finishing wax had been applied. The bowl has not had a stem made for it yet.

 

green man meerschaum pipe bowl

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handcarved meerschaum pipe bowl one of a kind

 

Pendants carved by hand

I have been carving pendants since I first began whittling and woodcarving. For many years they gave me a chance to create work that required little in the way of tools (just my Opinel knife and some sandpaper) and could utilise little fragments and splinters of wood which were easy to carry in a backpack.

 

wooden pendants carved using a knife

 

These pendants were carved to represent the seasons. the plants are ones which are particularly associated with each season in Britain. From the left, primroses come out in spring, bluebells in summer, blackberries in autumn and ivy stays green all through the winter.

 

carved oak sculpture, with inlaid stone

 

This piece ws carved from a fragment of holm oak collected at a youth hostel in Oieras, Portugal (where this type of wood is known as azinho). The wood had been previously charred in a fire, which darkened and hardened it. The inset stone is a piece of calcite collected in a valley named San Pedro in Almeria, Spain where I was staying at the time. It was smoothed by rubbing against an old whetstone. The beautiful desert valley has a group of hippies and travellers living in it. This carving is so-called because it was carved on the beach at San Pedro on the first day of the new millennium.

 

wooden pendants carved using a knife

 

Like all of these pendants, these ones were both carved using my four-inch bladed Opinel lock knife.

 

Lilies pendant carved using a knife

Dragon castle whittling

Dragon and Castle

This detailed small sculpture shows a dragon lying around a small hill with a castle built onto it. There are towers, steps and even a waterfall. It was carved from strongly scented Camphor Laurel wood, which was used in China to make map cases and storage for clothes as it repels moths.

In Australia, the introduced tree is now quite invasive. This piece of timber was found in a firewood pile at a youth hostel in Byron Bay, New South Wales. I was working as a woodchopper for a place to stay – perhaps my ideal job at the time!

 

Wooden dragon sculpture

 

I started carving it while in Australia and continued working on and off on the sculpture for quite a while after returning to the UK.

 

camphor laurel wood carving

carved wooden bowl

Carved Wooden Bowls with Inscriptions

These bowls, like a lot of my earlier work, were made from found wood. The textured and smooth surfaces are wonderful to touch and the bowls themselves become robust containers for the stories which they acquire; from initially finding the wood to the places which the pieces travel to after being finished.

 

fern worthy forest bowl inscription

 

This charred, textured and scraped bowl was made from beech wood, which had come from a tree that grew high up on the wild and rugged plateau of Dartmoor.

 

carved wooden bowls

 

When I picked up the timber, left over from tree felling operations, this is what I could see:

 

Fernworthy forest dartmoor

 

The second carved bowl has charcoal on the rim which has been solidified using resins. The piece of wood came from a large arts complex and squat in Berlin called ‘Kunsthaus Tacheles‘.

 

Kunsthaus Tacheles Berlin 2004

 

I found it, already charred, in a long-dead fire on the snowy ground outside the building. I have heard that since then, the squat has been forcibly closed down. If you don’t read German, the inscription says:

‘Tacheles is an old Jewish word which means to make things clear, that is to get to the point’

 

Tacheles carved wooden bowl

 

When beginning to make these sculptures in 2004, I was studying the work of the artist Richard Long, who can condense the tale of a walk of a thousand miles into a picture of a spiral which traces the path. Short pieces of text are carved onto each bowl, telling a little about where the wood came from, so hopefully beginning the process of holding tales which these bowls were made for.

 

carved wooden bowl

 

The following cherry wood bowl was made for the fifth wedding anniversary of two friends in 2009. The blackened outside was made, like the bowl above, by scorching the bowl with a blowtorch.

 

carved cherry wood bowl
In Britain, wooden gifts are traditionally given to celebrate the fifth anniversary. The quotation carved onto the bowl is from William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:

‘What is now proved was once only imagined’

 

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ceramic stamps

Carved Stamps for Pottery

These boxwood stamps were made for a very experienced professional ceramicist named Steve Carter of St Werburghs Pottery. He has been extremely impressed with them. They are very durable, not too absorbent and do not stick to the clay. Steve says that he prefers them to any other clay stamp that he has used.

 

ceramic stamps

 

Some stamps were made for an open day at the Botany Arts Studios in Bristol. Cups were produced by Steve to serve mulled wine in. The text on the stamp is based on the Botany’s window sign.

 

botany arts studios stamp

 

These two stamps were made in February 2010. The one on the right is for garlic storage pots, the one on the left for general use. The goose motif comes from a legend about St. Werburgh, a Saxon woman after whom both the area of Bristol and therefore Steve’s pottery (which is situated there) are named. She is supposed to have resurrected a favourite goose (called Grayking) which her steward had eaten.

 

ceramic stamps for st werburghs pottery

ceramic stamp

carved Opinel knife handle

Carved Knife Handles

This knife handle was carved for a commission in 2011. The buyer gave me his own designs and I carved them onto the beechwood handle of a number 10 Opinel lock knife. The handle is 10.5 cm (41/4″) long. As this was the type of knife with which I learnt to carve, it ws very exciting for me and the whole carving was done using my own Opinel, which is also shown here.

 

Carved Opinel knife handle

 

The knife at the top is the carved commission. It’s easy to see on this image how much metal had been sharpened off the blade of my knife over the previous 21 years- both blades would have once been the same size.

 

carving an Opinel knife handle

 

The blade of the knife to be carved was extended and wrapped in thick card, to give more to hold on to when working. Work in progress can be seen below.

 

carving with an Opinel knife

 

…and here are two images of the completed handle, finished with a very light sanding and then linseed oil…

 

Beautiful carved Opinel handle

Un couteau Opinel sculpté

 

Here’s another, which was carved for a commission a couple of months later. The knife is an oak-handled EKA. The client drew a (very good) representation of his idea for me to carve, which includes his son’s initials, the sun and the moon.

 

carved oak knife handle

 

carved EKA knife handle

 

The next knife handle was carved in New South Wales, Australia way back in 1997. It was made for a very talented Spanish leatherworker named Guille. In exchange for me carving a walnut-handled knife that belonged to him, he made a pouch for my carving knife (shown below). He loved Celtic designs and so the knife has a celtic-style dog’s head on the pommel, with eyes made from inlaid reindeer antler beads.

 

Celtic knife pouch

 

I still have the beautiful pouch that he made for me to this day but after leaving Byron Bay I never met Guille again.

Here are two images of his knife:

 

carved celtic knife handle

dogheadknife2

 

If you are interested in these then you might also like a more recent commission to carve a pagan ceremonial knife handle from oak, which is discussed in a separate post.

 

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Friday Tembo sculpture repair

Repairing an ‘Ebony’ Sculpture by Friday Tembo

In January 2009, I was offered a commission to repair a sculpture by the late Zambian sculptor, Friday Tembo. The piece was carved from African Ironwood timber that had been darkened to look like ebony. Unfortunately, it had been accidentally knocked from a mantelpiece and had broken into several fragments.

Friday Tembo was one of Zambia’s top sculptors, who exhibited internationally. He was a personal friend of the owners and had given them the carving himself. It therefore had great sentimental value, particularly as he had since passed away.

It was a real privilege to be given the opportunity of repairing and restoring this strange, beautiful and interesting work. It represents a shaman in the process of transforming between the shape of a man and that of a fish.

 

repairing an ebony sculpture by Friday Tembo

 

This is how the sculpture was given to me. The small bag holds fragments which had been knocked from the fins.

 

Repairing Friday Tembo sculpture

 

Below are shown these same breaks after being repaired, retextured and then finished using the original methods that Friday Tembo would have used.

 

Ebony sculpture repair Bristol

 

The break shown below had to be reinforced with an internal metal rod to strengthen it.

 

ebony sculpture repair

 

The repaired sculpture, waiting in a friend’s workshop for collection by the client. The tools give an idea of the size of the piece.

 

Ebony sculpture by Friday Tembo

imaginary animal - crustacean

‘Velocivenator satiei’

What if lobsters or large shrimp had evolved into fast-swimming hunters instead of creatures adapted to a life mainly on the seabed. What would they look like?

 

unusual woodcarving of a crustacean inspired by Erik Satie

 

This sculpture, made between Nov ’08 and Oct ’09, is fairly closely based on macruran decapods (creatures such as lobsters and shrimp) and their cousins the stomatopods (mantis shrimp). Only wood and tagua nut, without any dyes or stains, has been used to make it. I enjoyed revisiting my old studies in Zoology to work out how a realistic creature would look.

 

imaginary creature- a hunting crustacean

 

All the woods used were either found after they had already fallen or are recycled material that would otherwise have been thrown away or burnt. They include:
Cocobolo and Pau amarillo from the scrap pile at a West Country wood merchants,

Juniper from a hill in the Lake District,

Mahogany from the counter of an old Post Office in Bow, London. My friend Molly was born in the flat above,

Cherry from the waste pile at a guitar maker’s workshop in Devon, from Highgate Park in Birmingham and also from a garden in Warwickshire,

Purpleheart and ebony scrap given to me by a cabinetmaker in Devon,

Tagua nut, an ivory-like nut that is a renewable rainforest resource from Brazil or Ecuador,

Holly and boxwood from Devon, courtesy of a tree surgeon friend,

Rose gum offcut from a builder’s skip in New South Wales, Australia,

Beech from the foot of the Totes Gebirge (‘Dead mountains’) in the Austrian Alps,

Black poplar and walnut offcuts from a woodyard in Bristol,

Almond from near a village named San Pedro in Almeria, Spain.

 

hunting lobsters

 

I like to imagine this piece being a specimen in some strange Victorian naturalists’s study. The title means ‘Satie’s fast hunter’ in Latin. In 1913 the composer Erik Satie, who had a taste for the humorous and the surreal, wrote a piano piece about the desiccated embryo of a hunting crustacean.