The natural sculpture the work of gordon baddeley

Words by Gordon Baddeley - Images by Dayve Ward

How can you carve into wood without violating the integrity of wood? Wood follows the seasons, recognises its growing time and its fallow time. The rise and fall of the sap is its own timekeeper.

Wood follows the seasons

For a tree, as with all things, the beginning of life is also the beginning of death. There is a small white shoot from a seed, then a new leaf, then another, until there is a tree. A tree among trees. The tree grows tall and quiet and graceful and has a life.

The tree grows tall and quiet and graceful and has a life

A tree is self-sufficient, linking the sun and the earth. Its leaf and its root are its sole communication with an atmosphere beyond the tree itself. The leaf is both a lung and a source of energy.

The root is trachea, weaving through its dark pathways, taking what it needs and sending it upwards. Like a factory, the leaf, the root, the conveyor channels, the earthen sugars, combine to make tree.

The stillness of a tree is not a stillness. It moves to the caress of the winds, and in response to the impulse of its own growth. It flakes and swells and widens, metamorphosing from sapling to branch to bud to leaf to flower to fruit. Inside its trunk it is building, laying cell against cell. It has its own direction of travel. How does it know to do these things? It is told by the sun and the earth and the tree from which it has seeded.

Inside its trunk it is building, laying cell against cell

But then it dies and it rots, and I lift it from the soft earth, out of the green moss, and look. How I choose is a mystery, a flash of interest as I pull away the mud and shake out the loose growth.

Carry it home

Scrape away the soft wood and the rotten wood and expose the core, those remaining veins of hard fleum beneath the bark. Some, like beech, show long, narrow cavities. Scrape the wood, gauge out the loose soil, score it with wire brush, scrape again. Then look, pay attention to the grain and the form.

Then look.....

Time to make decisions. Saw off unwanted spurs, note the direction of flow and seek to enhance it. Some sections are naturally rough-textured; others are smooth and weathered; some curl around stone; some are dark from interaction with the chemical content of the soil. Some, inexplicably, are dappled with cream splashes across the grain.

Now for the carving

Now for the carving. If you carve into wood, you had better follow the rules. Push against the grain at your peril; chip into a knot at risk of blunting your tools. Wood taken away is wood gone forever. Wood carved too thinly across the cellular layer is wood that will snap under pressure. Listen to your work; feel through your hands; watch as the wood responds to your urging. It will tell you where and how. Chisel away the unwanted wood. Deepen the deep crevices. Take out the stone to be replaced later. Lay the flat of the chisel along the surfaces and, always, follow the grain. Then stop. Leave it for a while, look, and, when you are ready, start again.

Sanding, smoothing, oiling, polishing, and finally mounting on stone or wood.

Work with care, with sympathy and with respect, and your work will be as a gift. The beginning of life was also the beginning of death but also the possibility of new life. There was a slowing, a hardening, a failing, a bending and breaking, a rotting. The tree one day became a stump above an earthen, decaying system of root, a relic of the tree that was. But some of that tree was taken, and carved, and reborn.

Now it is renewed, reincarnated, alive again. In the subtle hands, the heart and the instincts of the sculptor, it has, one hopes, recaptured, something of the sinuous grace of its golden days.

Credits:

Words: Gordon Baddeley Photography: Dayve Ward

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