1 Primary Sources
The Wheelwright’s Shop
Cambridge University Press 1934 (1923)
If there is a single book that we could refer to as inspiring the STONE Project, this would be it. Although well known in many circles, we are personally grateful to the sculptor Wade Saunders for introducing the book to us some years ago.
The Wheelwrights Shop is a beautifully written book that describes a culture and a world of attentive craftsmanship that has probably never been articulated so well. Sturt had been a school teacher before he took over the Wheelwrights shop that had been run by his father and grandfather. He muses on skill versus academic learning, which he sees skill as the repository of centuries of common wisdom. Although there are references to earlier times, the book covers the period from 1884 to about 1929, a period that began to introduce the seeds of our modern ideology. It is a wonderful first person account the social and occupational history precipitated by industrialisation, and specifies some of the detailed knowledge that is lost, like when and how to cut wood.
'It shows in the author a combination of the gifts of a handicraftsman, the actual maker of things, with the powers of a writer, in a way not common in English literature.'
— The Times Literary Supplement
Stones of Rimini
Adrian Stokes is a critic whose writings are unusually clear and full of insights. He seems to speak to artists more than do other critics. He is important for articulating and using the carving -modeling distinction which is important to many points in these texts.
The writing of Adrian Stokes is full of little insights such as these:
“Carving all stones, we shall find, is essentially a thinning.”
“There is always the element of disclosure in true carving.”
He also makes asides that suggest that there is still a lot to do. Nicholas Penny almost certainly took a clue from the following remark, and as a consequence wrote a really excellent book. One book is not enough and Stokes’ observation is true.
“The influence of material upon style is an aspect of art history that is never sufficiently studied.”
Stokes is an important spokesperson for touch:
“ Hand-finish is the most vivid testimony of sculpture. People touch things according to their shape. A single shape is made magnificent by perennial touching. For the hand explores, all unconsciously to reveal, to magnify an existing form. Perfect sculpture needs your hand to communicate some pulse and warmth, to reveal subtleties unnoticed by the eye, needs your hand to enhance them….Even granite is heightened by human touch. Continual contact with hands and clothes causes nearly all stones to develop a smooth surface which is seldom observed to flake off.”
He even makes the case for touch in curious and insightful asides. In the following quote he makes a plea not just for touch but for a sensitivity to context.
“Still the invention of the fork in the late Middle Ages has probably meant more household everyday ugliness than can be ascribed to any other cause. For when one eats with fingers or chopsticks it is necessary to hold the receptacle near the face. Since thus it is held the eater is most conscious of the receptacle’s meaning. It will probably be a bowl, lovely and convenient to the touch, lavish to the mouth, deep to the eye. If we ate without forks we would not stomach common crockery.”
The Critical Writings of Adrian Stokes
Volume II 1937-1958
The Problem of Form In Painting and Sculpture
Adolph Von Hildebrandt
G.E. Stechert & Co
Chicago University Press 1958
The Tacit Dimension
Peter Smith Publishers 1983
Sculpture in Stone
Josepmaria Teixidó I Camí & Jacinto Chicharro Santamera
Parramon Ediciones, S.A.2000 / Barron’s 2001
First published in French in 1952 / English 1959
This slender and technically unfinished book could be about many things — ecology, for instance, or the relationship of action to a spiritual search — but when it is read with the conviction that it is about stone carving it yields many insights.
When the narrator first sees the handwriting of Father Sogol he identifies it as:
“ a shifting blend of violence and gentleness. ”
The attempt to find the invisible mountain hidden within the normal earth begins to sound like finding a sculpture within a raw stone. It defines alpinism as
‘…the art of climbing mountains in such a way as to face the greatest risks with the greatest prudence. Art is here taken to mean knowledge realised in action.”
One member of the expedition tells a legend she had heard at high altitude of “Hollow Men” who live in solid rock, where they have houses whose ‘walls are made of emptiness.’ They learn of unusual plants with specific powers, one whose growth is so powerful that the narrator compares it to ‘slow-motion dynamite’ and is used to unseat boulders when needed to build or terrace. When they began their ascent they began eliminating things they had originally brought along but now seemed unnecessary.
In the ascent one step always prepares for those who follow: the custom is that shelters or encampments are always left fully prepared for the next arrival, even to the point where they might stay occupied until the next group of climbers is about to arrive. A sense of community, whether contingent or more distant, binds all climbers together. Within a larger context there is visible and invisible help.
The peridam, a stone of special worth, is so perfectly transparent that it escapes the notice of everyone except those who are inwardly prepared to see it.
His paragraph on shoes is an eloquent description of the relationship with tools.
“Shoes, unlike feet, are not something you’re born with. So you can choose what you want, At first be guided in your choice by people with experience, later by your own experience. Before long you will become so accustomed to your shoes that every nail will be like a finger to feel out the rock and cling to it. They will become a sensitive and dependable instrument, like a part of yourself. And yet, you’re not born with them; when they’re worn out, you’ll throw them away and still remain what you are.”
The book was never finished because Daumal died young in 1944, but the notes at the end become almost a guidebook for both the book and ‘knowledge realised in action.’
“The last step depends on the first. Don’t think you’ve arrived just because you see the summit. Watch your footing, be sure of the next step, but don’t let that distract you from the highest goal. The first step depends on the last.”
Lenore Thomas Straus
Penguin Books ( Allen Lane) 2008
Practical Stone Masonry
John David & P Hill
Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay
George Ewart Evans
Faber and Faber 1956
Although nothing as precise and important as The Wheelwright’s Shop, this book might interest those who would like to know more about old methods and traditions that are disappearing or have already disappeared. It is primarily about farming, but rather than a personal account, it is a compilation of stories told by various old timers. Evans makes the distinction of what he calls ‘felt facts.’ In one chapter he describes ‘stone picking’ to clear the fields and strengthen the roads. He also talks about Suffolk boats going empty to places like Newcastle and returning with coal. Many places, including much of New York are paved with stones that were originally ballast.
From a different line of work, my colleagues,
I bring you an idea. You smirk.
It’s in the line of duty. Wipe off that smile, and
As our grandfathers used to say:
Ask the fellows who cut the hay.
From The Decade of Shenh Min
Translated by Ezra Pound
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