On Carving a Headstone …
I make bespoke, one-off headstones, working with the person or persons commissioning the Stone to evolve a design which will speak of their feelings for the person whose name is to be carved into The Stone. I invariably find that some unquantifiable element finds its way through The Stone and that the finished Headstone reflects on the relationship between the dedicatee and those who dedicate the stone: it is a most personal process and it is also a journey that all involved undergo together, hence the greater degree of involvement from those commissioning The Stone, and the more that I know about the person, or persons, whose name I am to carve, then the more that The Stone will speak. A good translation of the word “Monumental” is “To bring to mind”, and I strive always to bring to mind both the person and their relationship with those left behind as a lasting testimony to the value of life itself that will speak to all who may be called to meditate in a Churchyard or Cemetery.
I was trained to carve stone by Mr. Jim Donaldson in Northumberland, working as an apprentice on his swansong, the pilgrimage Church of St. Mary and St. Cuthbert on the hill of Shepherd’s Law, commissioned by Br Harold, a Franciscan Hermit who lived there. I went on to carve gravestones because I felt a calling to work in this way and also in my home county of North Devon, the lack of workable stone and the availability since the 17th century of Slate had left a still living tradition of fine letter carving, which was the main outlet for the sculptors of that region and one that I have sought to continue: working personally for my customers, finding the blocks, cutting, shaping and polishing them; evolving the design, actual size with brush and ink on paper, then translating this into the slate and finally delivering and raising the Stone, often with the family or friends and with some form of simple ceremony to dedicate.
I work in slate because it is the densest, cleanest and most long lasting of stones in our climate and with its almost perfect grain it can show a letter to its best advantage for the longest time and Wales is, above all, the land of Slate/ “Llech”.