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Friday 20 December 2013

Spectacular carvings by Thomas Paty and John Michael Rysbrack in Redland Chapel, Bristol

Redland chapel is situated in a suburb of Bristol. It was opened in October 1743 and was commissioned by John Cossins as a private chapel for his family.

The chapel is very unusual as it is not dedicated to a particular saint, holy figure or the Christian Trinity. Some have speculated that this may have been largely because it was a private chapel but maybe also because Cossins was a freemason and symbols such as the eye of Osiris were apparently part of the original decoration. When built, it would have stood in a rural setting overlooking small villages, which are now suburbs of the city. These unusual carvings of young African faces look out over the view.

Why such unique subject matter? No one is sure, perhaps it was related to Bristol's unfortunate links to the slave trade, perhaps they were servants who have been immortalised watching over the family tomb below or perhaps it is simply that such portrayals were in vogue at the time.

Inside the chapel are the carvings that I had travelled here to see. Thomas Paty was an eighteenth century carver of stone and wood who was largely based in Bristol, where he worked with his sons John and William. Several local buildings contain sculpture by the Patys. Although the work looks similar to Grinling Gibbons' carving, Thomas Paty was born about eight years before Gibbons died so they were not working at the same time.

Image from:
Unfortunately, a large part of the carved work is obscured by an unfortunately-placed projection screen which is apparently prone to jamming when raised. It also covers a large oil painting of the Embalming of Christ by John Vanderbank. The painting is an eighteenth-century copy of an earlier one by Annibale Caracci, which hung in Houghton Hall in Norfolk before going into the collection of the Russian royal family, where it was destroyed in a fire. I only hope that the location of the projection screen can be changed or the jamming sorted out , as it seems like a terrible shame to hide such beautiful and important work behind this blank white obstruction, as you can see below...

The Baroque carvings are executed in limewood, contrasting beautifully against a dark oak background. They have recently been restored after years of woodworm damage as well as some vandalism during a break-in a few years ago. Much of the carving work in the restoration was done by Charles Oldham, who is based in nearby Frome.

It was certainly worth it, they are stunning. The restoration work has not filled in every worm hole, as you can see below, but particularly damaged parts were replaced and everything cleaned, apparently the cleaning material being saliva on cotton buds. I was told that saliva contains enzymes that make it more effective than water for the job.

The cover of the font below was stolen during the break-in and a replacement has been carved and gilded by Laurence Beckford

The 'Bristolgems' blog has some very interesting information about the chapel and about Paty himself.

Near the entrance are two marble busts carved by the noted carver John Michael Rysbrack, who was originally Flemish but based himself in London and was one of the pre-eminent portrait sculptors of the time. They depict John and William Innys, the brothers of John Cossins' wife Martha, in informal attire. Perhaps this was also the fashion during that period? 

The informality does seem a bit odd in a church, especially when the nearby busts of John and Martha Cossins (also by Rysbrack) are much more formal. 

The busts of the Cossins were made in 1734 and kept at their house until Martha's death in 1762. If the busts of her brothers were made at the same time and kept in the house, that could possibly explain their informality. Maybe Cossins and Martha preferred a more formal look?

Unfortunately, following the break-in the chapel now has to be locked outside of times of services. However, if you contact the chapel, they are happy to show people inside by appointment. Many thanks to Gill and Michael for taking time to show me around and chat about the beautiful work there.

'Bridget's Smile'- a sculptural bench by Sue Darlison

sue darlison

Sue Darlison is a bespoke furniture maker, tutor and exhibition organiser based in Bristol. Today, I helped to take over a bench that she has recently made. It is now installed at 'The Limes', a local centre for people with dementia, and was commissioned by someone in memory of his wife Bridget who attended the centre.

The bench is made from Cedar of Lebanon and Oak. The shape was inspired by Bridget's smile, which seems a particularly lovely way to be remembered. In the New Year I have been asked to carve the words 'Bridget's Smile' onto it and then it will stay in the garden of the centre, for visitors and clients to enjoy.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Another fun day at Boiling Wells!

We had a huge bonfire today.

I had cleared a lot of brambles from the top of the site, so with the help of some of the young people who have visited us on the last couple of Tuesdays they got dragged down to the bottom of the site and burnt. It was quite a blaze!

Even though the fire burned fiercely, there were still some marshmallows cooked over it, although they didn't take long before they were done in that heat.

It's been a great couple of days with everyone and I'm looking forward to one more after Christmas.

Friday 13 December 2013

New Forest of Avon Products Cooperative website!

After a long process of designing, the new Forest of Avon Products Coop website is online! I've been a member of the coop for about 7 years. It aims to encourage the use of locally grown and sustainably sourced wood products wherever possible. There are about 35 members at the moment, who range from bespoke furniture makers and fine carvers to roundwood framers and timber growers.

Why not check out the site? It's at:

One-to-one tutoring at my studio

Will came over for another afternoon of one-to-one woodcarving tuition. They have been very enjoyable (after all, talking about woodcarving is one of my favourite things!) and he has sent me an email saying how much he has enjoyed them too.

The last session was quite heavy on facts about tools and techniques, so it was great that this one was much more 'hands-on'. He got to use my Gransfors-Bruks Swedish carving axe to learn about axe techniques whilst roughing out the design for a lovespoon in a block of well-seasoned cherry wood. Cherry is one of my favourite carving timbers and hopefully the spoon will look great when it is finished.

I'm very glad that these tuition sessions have gone so well and would be happy to consider similar ones after this. Good luck to Will with his carving in the future as well.

.....Update on the 4th June 2014......

Will has carried on with his lovespoon and completed it. He sent me some images and I thought that that you might like to see how it turned out:

The last teaching session at Shirehampton

On Wednesday, it was the last session at Shirehampton making the bench to go in the Daisy Field. It's looking good! I've got the components in my workshop now to 'fine-tune' the joints and drill for the fixings and the bench will hopefully be getting installed in January, when everyone comes back after the holidays.

Dick Helme (who is looking at the camera in the photo above) brought in some photos of his furniture and woodturning . They were very, very impressive and it was great to see them, albeit as pictures.  Dick was saying that despite his woodworking skills, carving was something he hadn't done much of and I think he enjoyed the opportunity to give it a go.

Everyone else seems to have enjoyed the project too and it's been great working with them all. I'll get some pictures of the bench on here once it's been installed.

Thanks to Ricky and Laura of LinkAge and to Helen at the Wild City Project for inviting me to be involved.

A fun day at Boiling Wells in St Werburghs

We had a great day at Boiling Wells today. A group of young people with learning difficulties came for the day and we made pencils, bird feeders and pizzas, which we cooked in the wood-fired pizza oven. Steve England also came down to work with me and Anna (the youth work manager for St Werburghs City Farm). We haven't all worked on a project together since the benches in Stoke Park and it was good to catch up with him. Working with Steve and Anna is always a great laugh and there was a really good atmosphere on site.

The weather was not too cold and it wasn't raining, so it seemed like an opportunity to cook marshmallows over the fire. With Steve's help, a campfire was soon burning and the marshmallows were cooking. I'm looking forward to next week when we will hopefully have another fire (weather permitting!).

Monday 9 December 2013

Birthday woodcarving class! Teaching at my studio in Bristol

At the weekend, my studio was being used as a teaching venue again. One of the visitors was enjoying a carving session as a treat for her birthday, so we got on with carving some bowls as well as a house sign.

It was a great way to spend a Sunday and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Thanks to Paloma for taking the photos as well.

A strange, cross-shaped tenon in the timber-framed Chester House in Knowle, West Midlands

Chester House in Knowle is also known as the Old Library. Part of the building dates back to the 15th century and the other half to the 16th century although, as one might expect, it has been remodelled many times over the years. It is free to visit and has an attractive knot garden behind.

Image from

Whilst walking past, I noticed this unusual tenon in part of the framing. I thought I'd put a picture up here as I haven't seen any others like it.

I believe that this part of the house dates to the 1400's and the tenon looks like it could be original to me. It seems quite unusual, perhaps just decorative or for some other specialised purpose?

Friday 6 December 2013

Teaching woodcarving at Shirehampton with LinkAge and also at my studio

Things have been moving along nicely in Shirehampton where I've been working with LinkAge and the Wild City Project, to create a bench that will be installed in a local nature reserve. The volunteers are a mix of older and younger people and everyone has been working hard to make the seat, which will hopefully be finished next week.

It will be carved to commemorate the horses and mules that were trained on the site to be sent to the battlefields of World War One.

The next day, Will came to my studio and we spent a great afternoon chatting about woodcarving. He's interested in possibly pursuing it as a career and so was keen to find out more about tools, techniques etc.

I haven't done a lot of one-to-one tuition at my studio as it is a real, working, vibrant, shared workshop and so can be a little noisy at times, although the folks sharing with me are very understanding about working around teaching sessions. However, the session with Will seemed to go very well indeed and so I'd like to do more of this kind of tuition in the future.

The great thing about one-on-one tuition is that it can be tailored more to the learner and what they want to do. They can also use my own personal tool set, so get to learn more about the differences between tool makes and shapes and what they can do with them. For example, Will is using a Ray Gonzalez hook skew below, a tool which is very delicate and so isn't always appropriate to include in a tool set for teaching a group. If you'd like to find out more about tuition, you can get my contact address via my website's contact page.

... and I'm looking forward to working with everyone again next week!