During the Oligocene, conditions were rather quiescent; widespread thin bioclastic limestones formed, associated with glauconitic and occasionally phosphatic terrigenousstarved sediments. These biogenic and authigenic sediments are an important source of marine invertebrates and vertebrates.
A long, long, loooong time ago a whole bunch of things died and fell to the ocean floor and over many, many, maaany years were covered by successive layers of other ‘stuff’ which served to compress the thingy stuff and turn it into stone. We call the kind found around Oamaru in NZ ‘limestone’ and it was to this fun material that my stone carving course turned its attention.
Our design brief required that the creation was to have God, god or gods as the inspiration and so…we went to pencil, paper and planned. Lots of ideas, either inspired by lore or imagination. (One of my classmates developed a somewhat cynical but humorous design based on avarice and greed and featuring a large jug with a $ sign on the side and a key suspended around the neck- key, Key…get it?) I initially thought of my son’s association with the Maori god of war, Tumatauenga but none of the designs really gelled so I moved to an arguably more pleasant realm, that of Tangaroa, the Maori god of the sea. This ‘inspiration’ persisted but was modified. Tangaroa had a son, Punga who in turn had a son, Ikatere. Ikatere fled to the sea to escape land-based threats and became the ‘father of fish’. I gave Ikatere an offspring and named it (gender neutral, me) ‘He-Uri-O-Ikatere’ (An Offspring Of Ikatere.)
It was a pretty daunting prospect to see this huge block of stone and picture the quite delicate and flowing model one had drawn hidden within. How to get it out!! First things first- remove the BIG volume of unwanted stone. My dear limestone tutor, Lee said this was an easy operation- first put in some deep saw-cuts that define the stone to be removed, then a few judicious blows with a mallet and the block would fall away. Simple. (I warned Lee this wasn’t going away any time soon.) She decided to show me exactly what she meant so gave the end of the block a few ‘judicious blows’ with the mallet and… off fell the whole end of the block instead of just the surplus section!!
Haha- sorry Lee!
She was super sorry and super apologetic but I looked at this as being a salutary lesson that at any time things can go wrong and not to become complacent when things are breezing along (never suggesting, of course that Lee was in any way complacent!)
Now it was a matter of following the guidelines I’d drawn and continue to remove bulky chunks, working gradually towards the form I’d planned. I don’t know whether my dear friend Lee had a pang of conscience or not but she introduced me to the reciprocating saw and what a great tool for quick removal of waste stone it was. A few cuts and then taps with the mallet and large chucks fell away. Thank you, Lee!
From there on it was saw, chisel, chisel, saw, mallet, chisel, and so on gradually removing more and more stone and getting closer and closer to the desired form. I hadn’t realised, of course how easy the stone was to work with- chiselling, sawing, rasping, sanding, drilling- all of these quickly removed varying quantities and fairly quickly it became easy(ish) to get close to the stage where finer detail emerges and more delicate methods are called for.
Something that was always at the back of my mind (and not TOO far back, either!) was what happened with the first bulk removal and I wondered how strong the stone was in the thinner areas and what danger there might be to chisel and mallet chipping away, a technique I fairly early on decided I wanted to use in order to preserve a very coarse texture on many parts of the work to contrast with some finer features- the ‘arms’ face and ‘offering bowl’. My fears were unfounded and although I was probably very tentative the nearer the point of the shell I got, the shell was indeed completed without ending up with integral bits on the carving room floor!!
As I worked towards the final details I had an inspiration- (I do like the way designs continue to ‘evolve’ as one sees new possibilities!!). I wondered whether I could excavate a line completely through below the head and behind one of the arms…I thought it could look quite good! Go for it!
Yes it did look good! Yes, it did require a lot more work but it did achieve another feature element. It also gave me all sorts of issues with finishing, but…
I intended some carving on the face- very simple stylised lines only and when these were done they did have the desired effect of new shadows and lines. After I’d done these however my friend of the $ jug suggested the moko might be improved by sanding and softening. Initially I didn’t like this idea but after sleeping on it I tended towards his view and so it proved- there was still line and shadow but the softer look suited the face.
All that was left, apart from checking this, that and the other for fine touching was to place some ‘offerings’. I had intended simply going to the beach and placing what shells, bones, weed and any other detritus I might find but as I had already carved a couple of nice stone mussel shells I decided that making a bit of a feature of the fascinating stones of our beaches would suit (remember ‘evolving’?) This I did- I have a number of colourful ‘shells’ I carved from various coloured stones and now I await He-Uri-O-Ikatere’s verdict- does he/she find favour with what I’ve made herim, or…
The new experience of working limestone was fascinating, (although it was VERY dusty and messy!) and I reckon I did OK for a first effort! What do you think, He-Uri?