3rd May 2016
Four years ago, when I was filled with enthusiasm for the Arts and Crafts movement but had no skills to show for it, I booked my first practical making course. I didn’t start with anything sensible like plastering or joinery but instead spent a couple of days at West Dean College in Sussex eating heartily, wandering around the walled gardens, and learning the basics of woodcarving.
Over the course of two days I made a maquette for the top of a staircase newel post: an abstract shape that expresses the movement of turning round and up a staircase. The process began, as always, with a drawing, which I then turned into a clay model to guide my every move in shaping the wood. The front and side outlines of the model were copied onto a block of wood, which was then put through a bandsaw, creating the basic shape and volume of the piece. Then it was just a matter of chiseling away, with the model sat alongside the wood.
Then, last week, I built the balustrade for the gallery of our two-storey library using lots of pieces of 2”x1” oak. It’s a simple, perpendicular balustrade designed not to compete with the organic forms of our staircase balustrade. However the sheer squareness of the result was too much for me and I realised that the maquette’s moment had come, not as a model but as the real thing: a tangible turning point at the end of the balustrade and the top of the library ladder. So the very first component made for the house has happily found its place.
Elsewhere, in the front garden, we’ve taken the hoardings down that have separated us from our neighbours in Tree House for the past three years, revealing a fence that went up behind them. Made by Jonnie Rowlandson, designer-maker of our fabulous staircase, it is naturally a thing of beauty, though the timber and metal uprights are unfortunately just too close together to allow super-friendly but slightly tubby Stanley through.