Meanwhile… Stone

Last weekend, while camping at Gumber Farm, we were lucky enough to try our hands at stone carving, taking turns to hack bits out of the National Trust’s Rise of Northwood sculpture. This two-and-half-tonne lump of Portland limestone is moving between various locations on the Slindon estate in Sussex, and members of the public are encouraged to participate, as a commemoration of the restoration of the nearby North Wood.

Stonecraft is the oldest art archeology has thrown up. The oldest undisputed human figurine, the “Venus of Hohle Fels”, is said to be as much as 40,000 years old, and others, such as the “Venus of Berekhat Ram” is thought to be as much as 800,000 years old. That’s as old as the earliest human remains ever found in Britain. These early stone artists used harder stone, or antlers, to mark patterns on softer stone, or rub away areas to make shapes. The arrival of iron allowed stone-cutting tools to become more sophisticated, but apart from the development of steel, they haven’t needed to change much since. That said, the addition of harder metals (e.g. tungsten) is now used for tipping chisels, and some industrial or otherwise large-scale processes use welding torches or lasers to cut stone more efficiently.

Soft stones, such as chalk (a soft form of limestone) or pumice, are easy to work, but don’t last well, particularly outside. Limestone, and marble (metamorphosised limestone) are much more durable, but harder to work. Granites (which contain high quantities of the very hard mineral, quartz), and basalt – both volcanic rocks – are even more durable, but require harder-tipped tools to carve.

Despite the introduction of sophisticated modern materials, stone workers (masons) are still much in demand, and the trade is still thriving. A typical modern-apprenticeship lasts three years, and trainees will learn not just about stone and how to work it, but also about architecture, draughtsmanship, and conservation.

Having had a go at sculpture, I learned the very first basics: how important it is to work with the stone both to protect it and your tools (and your thumbs!) from unwanted damage. If you fancy learning about it too, and/or being part of the Rise of Northwood sculpture, head for the Slindon estate in the Sussex downs, and look out for a large block of chiselled limestone.

Check out my Stone board on Pinterest:

Working on the sculpture at Gumber Farm.

Working on the Rise of Northwood sculpture at Gumber Farm.

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