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10. Can you carve a face? The Pilgrim

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As I started to talk more to Ernie and Mark about my work as a stone carver, and the things that I had made in the past, they began to challenge me on how I would hand carve granite. Ernie asked if I could carve a face by just working into a rough block. His challenge was an insightful way to try and understand the difference between his way of working and my own. Ernie’s methods were based on the traditions of masonry, where measurements and templates guided the working of the granite, whereas my methods involved a great deal more flexibility and improvisation. He was very interested in seeing how I would go about working straight into the block. As it happened, I took the challenge with real enthusiasm. It was a chance to show off my skills, and learn more about fine carving in granite.

I asked Tim for a rough split pillar, and he supplied me with a beautiful piece found in his stock pile at the bottom of the quarry. It was a lovely rusty brown rough-grain fieldstone, split many years ago judging by its weathered faces. I decided to work the entire face purely with hand tools, and soon realised how fine I could work the granite. I also realised that the crystalline matrix was made up of very different densities of matter. The silvery black micas were very soft in comparison to the very hard quartz, and so the sharp chisel would bounce on the quartz and suddenly dig in to the micas. Hit the crystal structure in the wrong way and a whole quartz section would be broken out of its 350 million year old seating. The way to progress over the surface in order to render fine features, such as the lips, was to ensure the ten millimetre tungsten chisel was extremely sharp, and peel or shave a fine dust off, repeating the task over and over until the required finish was achieved.

I kept working on the face over many weeks, the odd afternoon or day at a time, trialling different ways of removing material carefully. The face slowly began to take shape and, with no real plan of what he or she might look like, the features became more defined. The stage at which the face had a definite character became the point at which I used diamond sanding pads to carry out the final refinement to the features. As the pillar that Tim had donated to the exercise was some two metres high, I then decided to work the body into the stone, or in effect making it look like the figure was emerging from the stone. Again, I did all this mostly by hand, using the hammer and punch to remove waste. It became quite a talking point as it stood silhouetted against the skyline at the top of the quarry. As it neared completion, I began to get a lot of interest from people wanting to buy it. It eventually found a home at one of Tim’s oldest customers, a local man made good, who had built a new housing development in Helston.

The exercise was very fruitful in terms of the conversations I had with Ernie and Tim as I worked through the carving, talking to them about how I was working, and in return me asking them about their experience of working granite. The time working on The Pilgrim, as it became known, cemented my friendship with Ernie; a mutual respect was established where we both valued each other’s knowledge, and time was spent talking about our lives in general. I realised too, during the making of the Pilgrim, that I had to find ways to carve the granite finely, but with much more efficiency. Hand carving takes a very long time, so I began to research different kinds of tools that could work the surface without having to use much force. A second face would have to be made, at some point.

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