Hard Stone

As I think I’ve mentioned in a number of places a wee while ago, I was going back to school. Back to school!! For goodness’ sake, why??? Well, I’ll tell you.

In this post I mentioned, somewhat in passing, that I once did bone-carving and also explained at least one reason as to why I am now living on The Coast. (It may be a bit fanciful, but fanciful is fine if either one believes in it, it harms no-one else or it’s just a bit of fun. Be that as it may I am now living on The Coast!)

Anyway, back to the bone-carving. I was self-taught and if I say so myself I did some OK stuff!

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The ear-rings I made to go with the necklace I gave to the kuia at Nga Hau E Wha.

It wasn’t for commercial reasons that I did it, but I even sold some of my work, exhibited in a couple of craft shows,???????????????????????????????and I was also on display at various times, so I guess someone else thought it was OK. Mostly I did it because I enjoyed creating something interesting or special out of something as ubiquitous as a hunk of beef shin-bone!???????????????????????????????I never got to work on whale-bone (although I have a piece I will have a go at one day) but I always had a wee craving (well, ‘wee’ may be a bit of an understatement) to move from bone to stone.

Well, I have gone back to school and so the title of this post. It came about when I was chatting with a clever young local artist who I had commissioned to do a piece for my second grandson (I have given a piece of pounamu to each of my children, grand-children and my wife.) Sheree Warren is the young lady’s name and she produces wonderful work. During our chat she mentioned that she was doing some more tutoring this year, and I inquired as to the particulars (if you don’t ask you won’t be told, huh?) and she said she was doing a guest stint on the “Jade and Hard Stone Carving Course” at Tai Poutini polytechnic later [this] year. I pricked up my ears at this and started thinking whether it may be about time I ‘scratched the itch’ that was the wish move from bone to stone. I went down to the polytechnic and sought the tutor of the stone carving school and as luck would have it, I knew him- small world, eh!

I chatted a bit with Ric about the course and he was very encouraging and almost promised I would be accepted (perhaps they needed a bit of ‘old’ to balance the ‘young’?) Long story short I picked up the enrollment form, filled it out and submitted it. I was delighted when my acceptance letter arrived a short time later then impatiently waited for the Christmas vacations to pass and the new educational year to begin. On Monday of this week it did and I went ‘back to school’.

The first week has been something of an anticlimax even though I completely understand the reason for the content of the various sessions we’ve had- the powhiri and obligatory sharing of food to remove the tapu from the new students on day 1 goes without saying, then a bunch of sessions on ‘health & safety’ and potential perils, and rest assured there are many in and around the various operations involved in “creating something interesting or special” out of a piece of stone. The stone (jade) itself presents hazards given it is closely related to asbestos and so the dust can be deadly, and it can break/chip/shatter if not treated properly and thus you can be cut, broken or bruised. The equipment that is used to cut, carve, shape and shine can also present perils for the unwary and anything that happens if things go wrong will generally be all over before you realise there’s a problem given rotational speeds of tens of thousands of revolutions per minute for many of the tools, and of course the grabbing of an unwary one’s hair, clothes or other dangly bits will also have happened before you are aware you’re even close to danger.

We had sessions on the tikanga around pounamu (more about that at another time, perhaps), a welcome to the library,  and then recognising styles of experienced and successful carvers then discussing the design elements that identify one from another and the particular processes that were used to produce a selection of these artist’s famous pieces. We have looked at what works and doesn’t work in design and the various conventions artists use, rely on or even challenge. We also spent a session in the cutting shed being introduced to the enormous range of stone that we will be playing with- I’m looking forward to seeing this process in action!

And we sat our first test!!! It was, naturally enough on workshop safety and covered the whole range of precautions we must take. The simple truth that indicated the importance of this test is that if we didn’t pass it, not only did we have to resit it but we would be unable to proceed to actually using the equipment and thus doing what we have come to do- carve stone! Fortunately it’s pretty much common sense even though a bit of terminology is expected, and it was pretty much an ‘open book’ test given we went over the test with the tutor and fully dissected its requirements.

The final day got better, though. We were a bit naughty and didn’t do the TPP Challenges- a variety of ‘team-building’ activities around the polytech designed to bring the study group together and to see other course’s work places. As we were a bit behind due to missing a couple of sessions Ric decided this would be the ideal time for ‘catch-up’ so catch-up we did.

Then we got into stone! We chose the pieces of off-cut material that we are going to “create something interesting or special” out of. Great!! The stuff we had to choose from won’t grab the interest of any of the top carvers, in fact it probably wouldn’t even prick the interest of a half reasonable artist, BUT… WE ARE ABOUT TO CARVE!

Our first requirement is to imagine, design and create six ‘free-form’ pieces. There are few criteria requirements because the intent is for the student (me) to get to know the tools we will be working with, to develop an awareness of the stone we chose, and to be able to bring a design out of the piece that will satisfy those few test criteria.???????????????????????????????I chose what I think are six pieces I can find some interesting and/or special shape within.???????????????????????????????They are not all jade so I will be feeling how a few different stones feel on the point-carver or the diamond burrs used for fine shaping.???????????????????????????????I am looking closely at each piece so I don’t try to impose previous designs where another design might be more effective.???????????????????????????????I do bring with me a supply of designs I’ve ‘doodled’ before which I possibly need to move out of my head for a while.

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I also need to stay ‘simple’ because these are due soon.

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Of course we also have to create and attach the cord to suspend any pendants, and carve any beads we intend to use with the cord for pendants. Hmmm! I’ll be back to show you how I got on.

So that took care of week one!

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