Having been born with a fair degree of skill at wood carving I find it sad to see the dedcline of use and poor recognition of this pleasant and beautiful art form and have dedicated many hours of joyous pleasure in carving bespoke items for individuals and more than one offering raffled to raise cash for favoured charities. The current commission came to me via a friend of some 45 years who is the official heraldic artist for the town of Bury St Edmunds. Through his contacts I have completed a carved staff to commemorate the 800th anniversary signing of the Magna Carta in 1214, but why Bury St Edmunds you might ask? Well the truth is, the document was commsssioned and formulated in Bury St Edmunds by twenty six armorial knights in advance of its more favoured exchange and delivery at Runnymede.
My treatment of the subject was to carve twenty seven medieval knights bearing respective armorial arms on shields in a spiral twist up the length of the staff which is surmounted by a wolf with the severed head of St Edmunds clasped firmly between its front legs and paws. Locally this symbol is accepted as the towns logo in favour of the more formal and official arms of the city.
The Magna Carta was formerly signed by King John in June 1215 and literally means the 'Great Charter' and is recognised as one of the most important documents of medieval England. The Charter declares a series of promises stating that the King would govern England in accordance with the customs of Feudal law and its prime purpose was to prevent the King from abusing his power over the people of England. The charter has also offered the foundation upon which the United States drew up its constitution. Unfortunately the spirit of the charter is suffering serious erosion of the last decades but that is the vast subject of different themes and studies.
This carving was conducted in lemon wood, which the favoured material for creating English longbow that is readily accessible (unlike Yew which was largely imported anyway). It is a fine material to carve and when treated with natural oils, its finish is very pleasing to the eye. Given the choice, I would prefer to have conducted this with pear wood as that finish is absolutely gorgeous, but sadly that is even harder to obtain of decent size albeit the price is pretty similar. This commission cost me Â£42 in timber but well worth it in my opinion.
Initially I applied paint to the finished item as this can often enhance the subject quite well, but due to the wide variety of pastel colouring required in the clothing of the twenty odd individuals, it actually looked quite insipid. Thus with regret and many hours a of re-carving, I had to literally carve the paint off. So now I hope the Cathedral at Bury like the finished product which will be handed over in a ceremony next April.
Incidentally, conspiracy theories abound today, but what an interesting twist to indicate continuity when this nation imported Spanish wine in great quantities during the late medieval period for the feasting table of the upper classes who determined that a condition of purchase was that the long, square staves that separated the bottles and ensured their safe passage was designated, or specified as being in Spanish Yew wood, which was much straighter and of sufficient length to turn into long bows and spectacularly efficient use by English longbowmen in wars against France and Spain.