As well as this blog, I also have a website and Instagram page with lots more images of my work as well as a few more stories.
If you like woodcarvings, you might want to have a look.

Sunday 28 June 2015

Phil Young: carving wood, as part of his distinctive sculptures, at his studio in Bristol

I've known Phil Young for quite a while now, in fact we went to the University of Plymouth in Exeter at the same time, studying three-dimensional design. It was great to catch up with him a couple of days ago and see what he's been up to.

Phil, as 'Dendrophile',  uses a variety of materials in his distinctive sculptures, often using carved wood to deceive the eye into seeing this material as having been distorted by different clamps, bindings etc.

'My work explores the tactile nature of these materials and our innate associations with them. I enjoy tricking the eye into believing wood has stretchy and squashy properties like flesh and how people react to this because of their strong connection to trees.'

I really like the way that Phil captures movement and distortion of the forms using the solid timber. Getting that sense of movement isn't always easy in woodcarving and he really gets it across well.

One of his pieces was recently shown in New York, which Phil seems to be taking in his stride. When not working on his sculptures, he practices his fire juggling skills and also works for a local college, working alongside students who need some extra academic help (such as those with Asperger's syndrome) with their creative studies.

Wednesday 24 June 2015

Visiting Pennant Melangell, an ancient Welsh church in what is an even older sacred site

'It's difficult to know what it is about this shrine and this valley that appeals so much. Is it the simple story of a good woman? Is it the fact that people feel that praying to her can bring about results? Is it simply the glorious, unspoilt setting that instantly transports us back, almost, to her time here because it is relatively unchanged?
Whatever the reason - and I guess it must be a combination of all those factors - there's no denying this place has an incredible appeal. It's one of the places that's moved me most. I didn't expect shrines to really get under my skin at all but this place has been described as one of Britain's holiest places and I, for one, am inclined to agree'

Ifor ap Glyn, presenting 'Shrines', an episode of the BBC documentary 'Pagans and Pilgrims; Britain's Holiest Places'

pennant melangell church

Pennant Melangell is a small church located at the top of the Tanat valley near Llangynog in Wales, on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park. Parts of the current building are 800 years old, although there has apparently been a church here for 1200 years and the circular wall around the graveyard hints that it was built on a Bronze Age site that is far, far older. Excavations in the last ten years have found evidence of these earlier burials.

Many early churches were built on sacred pagan sites. If people attached special sacred significance to a place, it was easier to put a church there and change its focus than to stop them visiting it, a fact that was officially recognised by Pope Gregory in 601AD.

Perhaps there are still-living witnesses to the pre-Christian site at Pennant Melangell - huge, ancient yew trees that grow around the edge of the churchyard. It's almost impossible to accurately age very old yew trees because of the way that they grow, but it isn't hard to imagine that these could well have been here from the time that the earliest church was built, if not before.

This is the only church dedicated to Saint Melangell. She was a princess in the 7th century, who escaped from an unwanted marriage proposal in Ireland to live as a hermit in the valley. One day, a prince named Brochwel Ysgithrog was hunting hares when one ran under the skirt of Melangell. The pursuing hounds ran away howling. The prince was so impressed that he gave Melangell the valley, to keep as a place of sanctuary. This story is portrayed in woodcarvings on a screen in the church, which were carved in 1450.

The church was recently in such disrepair that there were plans to take off the roof and let it go to ruin. Luckily, the local diocese and people didn't support that, so it has been restored and is now a very beautiful sanctuary space.

People have come here for centuries to pray at Melangell's shrine for help with their problems. As Ifor ap Glyn points out, ' There's no denying the emotional energy that you can feel channeling through the place. There's the pain but also hope. It's very moving'.

Even if (like me) it isn't a Christian faith that brings you there, there is definitely something special about Pennant Melangell.

Pilgrims have left offerings around the building; including the ancient, faded marks of shoes carved onto gravestones outside and more recent carvings of hares in stone, by Meical Watts, which are displayed around the walls.

The shrine was destroyed during the Reformation, but was rebuilt when the church was restored in 1958 using original pieces that were found in the walls of the church buildings. During the more recent restoration begun in 1988, the shrine was moved from the small room known as Cell-y-Bedd to its current location. Some bits are missing and are marked by plain concrete ('honest repair'), but the shrine is pretty much the same as it was before, raised up on columns so that people can pray and leave offerings beneath the remains of the saint. It is thought to be the oldest example of a Romanesque shrine in Northern Europe and is the only one to survive in Britain.

Next to it is a fragment of a very old wall painting that has been preserved. It was probably painted before the thirteenth century.

During the restoration twenty-five years ago, the bones of a woman from about the time that Melangell lived were discovered beneath a large stone in the floor of a small, semi circular room on the Eastern end of the church, along with a second grave.

This room, known as Cell-y-Bedd, was built in the 18th century and rebuilt in 12th century style during the restoration begun in 1988. ap Glyn notes that it was built on semi-circular footings of an apse that were much older. Early Christian churches also used this semi-circular area in their layout, so the room could have been the rebuilding of an original, much older feature. The bones have now been placed in the rebuilt shrine.

There are many other curiosities at Pennant Melangell, including a wooden candelabra from 1733, a 12th century font and the 'Giant's Rib', a huge bone displayed against on one wall. It looks like a whale rib, but one story relates that it was found in Melangell's tomb, another (probably more reliably) says that it was found 'on the mountain between Bala and Pennant Melangell'. What would a huge rib bone be doing on a Welsh mountainside with no rocks there that could possibly hold such remains as fossils? You can make up your own tales about that one...

Tuesday 23 June 2015

Where are the carved spiders hidden on the bench in the children's playground on Clifton Down in Bristol?

If you've been searching for the spiders on this bench and can't find them all, you're probably not alone. Some of them are deliberately carved to be hard to find...

However, if you're looking for a map straight to each one, I'm going to have to disappoint you. That would be far too easy! The carving of the purseweb spider really doesn't count as one of them either.

Instead, here are some clues for you to give it another go:

Spider 1:

This spider is the biggest and doesn't look quite like the others. It lives on coral in the end but is well camouflaged and hard to spot.

Spider 2:

This spider must have been a favourite of Isambard Kingdom Brunel; he included it on his bridge.

Spider 3:

This spider likes to read about Mr Brunel.

Spider 4:

This spider hides under the Suspension Bridge.

Spider 5:

This spider guards a screwhole that is part of the oak's history. It lives on the edge.

Spider 6:

This spider is guarding your back when you sit down, from behind the rest.

Spider 7:

This spider hides almost beneath a leaf.

Spider 8:

This spider is on top.

Spider 9:

This is a shellfish spider.

Spider 10:

This spider likes to give backrests support.

There you go, ten spiders... good luck and happy hunting!

The bench in the children's playground at Clifton Down has been installed!

Last Friday, I went to the Downs with a group of the estates team from Bristol council to fit the large oak bench that I've been working on for about two years.

It took about five and a half hours altogether to install it and members of Clifton and Hotwells Improvement Society (who commissioned the piece) came to see it, as well as Francis Greenacre (who represented the Downs Committee and helped a lot with the design) and Libby Houston (who is represented on the bench and also allowed me to use some of her poetry).

Just before the installation,  I was shown the offshoot of the 'Poet's Tree' next to the playground where the bench now stands. This black poplar also grew next to the spot where Peter Gabbitass (who is represented on the bench) sold his poetry. The original tree was cut down about twenty years ago, but recently a shoot from the stump has succeeded in growing to become a mature tree.

Thanks to the council team for all their help. I'm very happy with the bench and hope that many others will enjoy it too!

clifton downs playground bench

Friday 12 June 2015

Large wooden outdoor sculptures at Lake Vyrnwy and Bala in Wales

 On a recent trip to Wales, I visited Lake Vyrnwy. The lake is actually a reservoir, with a stone dam built in the 1880s holding back the waters...

 and a very striking Gothic-revival 'straining tower', which filters the waters before they are pumped off to supply Liverpool and Merseyside.

The area around the reservoir is now a bird reserve, partly managed by the RSPB. At one end of the lake, overlooked by the dam,  is an interesting sculpture trail showing large wooden artworks by artists from around the world.

Here's one called 'Water is life' by Angela Polglaze from Australia:

I also liked this more abstract form; 'Obelisk' by the Norwegian artist Nils Haukeland well as 'The Ark of Llanwddyn' by the Welsh artist Irene Brown (Llanwddyn is the name of the village submerged by the waters when the reservoir was built)

...and 'Cupboard' by Rosemary Terry, also from Wales.

Some of the sculptures are showing signs of the deterioration that you would expect after twelve or more years of Welsh weather acting on them, but many were still in pretty good shape.

After looking around, we went off to find the tallest tree in England and Wales, which was marked as growing on the side of the lake. We were four years too late! The Douglas fir, which was once 63.7m (208.9ft) high, was badly damaged in a storm and had to be felled. However, the chainsaw carver Simon O'Rourke has sculpted the remaining 50-foot stump into a huge reaching hand, which is situated in a beautiful spot near a small waterfall.

On the other side of the lake were more huge wooden artworks. These picnic benches are huge! They were the scene for a highlight of the trip; feeding chaffinches peanuts from my hand.

Simon O'Rourke also carved some very nice sculptures at the camping site that we stayed at;
Pen y bont, on the outskirts of the small town of Bala. They represent figures from the ancient Welsh tales called the Mabinogion. Apparently he carved them all (the image below shows about half the total number) in about 5 days.

This is Taliesin, the poet and seer:

This is the giant Tegid Foel, who was supposed to have lived on an island in the middle of Lake Bala (which is called Llyn Tegid in Welsh):

This is Blodeuedd, who was created from the flowers of meadowsweet, broom and oak by Math and the sorceror Gwydion: