Suffolk sculptor carves out a career in wood
Mary Anstee-Parry explains how she chiselled out a career in the world of woodcarving and sculpting
Shaping up nicely
Years ago my father, a serving officer in the British Army, began pottery classes and bought himself a kiln. He gave me a lump of clay which I played with for a time, producing something fairly dreadful which he duly fired in his kiln. It was then that I decided to become a sculptor.At art school and, much against the fashion of the day, I carved in wood and, later, stone, but it was always the carving technique (removal) and not the modelling (adding on which had so inspired my father), which attracted me. Many years, and sons, later I was encouraged by John Green, a gifted sculptor and stonemason, to attend the City and Guilds of London Art School. There I spent a short time in the stone yard but felt disadvantaged by my lack of masonry skills, so I transferred to the woodcarving department. It was a revelatory moment when I began to carve in this more traditional way, using the skills which had been developed over hundreds of years, now being taught as a contemporary craft. This gave me an alphabet to build a language to say what I needed to express sculpturally. Although I have a great love of gothic and renaissance carving, admiring both their craftsmanship and sense of design, it has always been more important for me to contemporise these skills. I still carve in wood and stone. Carving in wood is a much more exacting technique than that used in stone and this is reflected in the number of tools I have in my workshop. Each form I carve in wood has a particular gouge which will make that shape.
"It was a revelatory moment when I began to carve in this more traditional way, using the skills which had been developed over hundreds of years, now being taught as a contemporary craft"
I prefer to carve well-seasoned and sound (for that read expensive) wood and always advise my students when offered wood for carving “to always look a gift horse in the mouth.” Free wood may not be sound wood. The unseasoned oak, which I used for the waymarkers for Guildford Borough Council, was an exception to this rule. Letter design and cutting in wood is a skill which, again, is exacting. It is not necessarily so that a “good” calligraphic style will transfer itself well from paper to wood – experience will show. There are two methods of letter cutting – incised and relief and the restaurant sign for “Mortimer’s on the Quay” is an example of the latter. Although I teach and, perhaps, am better known for my work as a traditional woodcarver, most of my sculptures are of stone. Stone makes for a much slower pace of carving; using only a few chisels and the forms I produce are simpler, restrained by the fragility of stone. My lack of knowledge concerning the technical aspect of stone carving is immense but, actually, I find it makes me work more freely.Every so often members of the Royal British Society of Sculptors are invited to take part in exhibitions around the country and I have been invited to take part in “The Heart, Head and Hands – A celebration of British Sculpture 2010” at the Richard Attenborough Gardens of Leicester University. Details for this and for my classes are on my website www.anstee-parry.com