Dubbed the ‘Michelangelo of Wood’, Grinling Gibbons is widely regarded as England’s finest woodcarver of all time. And this summer you can have the chance to learn some of the skills that made him the craftsman he was
Born in Rotterdam in the 17th century to English parents, the young Grinling Gibbons grew up to become a superb sculptor and woodcarver; arguably the finest this country has ever known. In 1667, aged 19 and already an outstanding woodcarver, he relocated to England to work with architect and builder John Etty in York before moving to Deptford, London, where talented craftsmen were in demand as a huge rebuilding project took place across the city following the Great Fire of 1666.
By chance, in 1671 he was discovered by John Evelyn, a diarist from whom he rented a cottage. Walking past one day, Evelyn glanced in the window and saw Gibbons at work. Later, Evelyn wrote: “I saw the young man sitting at his carving, by the light of a candle. I saw him to be engaged on a carved representation of Tintoretto’s Crucifixion, which he had in a frame of his own making.”
This summer anyone with an interest in learning woodcarving skills can emulate the work of Grinling Gibbons by participating in a number of events taking place around the UK, from cutting or shaving strips from wood, known as, ‘whittling’, to uncovering the secrets of trees and timber. Here is our selection of what’s going on and when:
Whittling Wildlife in the Woods
Learn about traditional whittling skills, using specialist hand tools and complete a carved bird in a day.
Dates: 27 May, 31 July
Local musician and instrument maker Brian Crosbie teaches participants, not only to make a simple dulcimer, but to learn how to play it. Dates: 4-5 July
Traditional Paddle Carving
This two-day course teaches modern and traditional paddle carving techniques.
Dates: 6-7 June, 10-11 October.
Carving an English Longbow
Learn how to make a longbow out of a single piece of ash working on a shave horse with a draw knife.
Dates: 20-21 June, 4-5 August, 20-21 August.
Wooden Spoon Carving
Participants learn about trees and timber before being given a piece of wood to carve their own spoon followed by a campfire lunch.
Dates: 30 May, 15 August
Green Woodwork and Chair Making
Courses start with a freshly cut log and students learn to use the axe, drawknife, shave horse and pole-lathe.
Dates: 13 June, 18 July, 25 July, 29 August
For more on the fascinating history of Grinling Gibbons, buy your copy of the latest issue of BRITAIN.
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