Published On: March 7, 2024372 words1.9 min read

A couple of weeks ago, a newspaper article about the completion of the recent restoration of Salisbury Cathedral made me ponder the differences between my work as a sculptor working in stone and that of a stone mason. How does my work differ as a present-day artist from that of the medieval stone mason?

The original cathedral was begun at Old Sarum on the site of an iron age hill fort after the Norman conquest but eventually proved unsuitable. So a new, safer situation was decided upon; building commenced in 1220 in what is now Salisbury and was dedicated and consecrated in 1258 in early Gothic style. Over the centuries there have been a number of periods of restoration. until the most recent one which has taken from 1986 to the present day. Many of the present stone masons have spent years of their entire careers working with dedication and commitment, including Gary Price who started as an apprentice in 1986 and has been now the Clerk of Works since 2012.

Much of the work during the past three decades has involved the replacement of over 1000 foundation stones originally placed there in 1220.

It is amazing to think that, as a modern-day stone carver. I still use similar tools to those as did the medieval masons – claw tools, points, mallets and rasps. Of course, nowadays some sculptors also use electric tools to speed up the process. When I learned to use them whilst I was working in Pietra Santa near Carrara on the beautiful white marble found there, I found that I much preferred to use the traditional ones, particularly for fine details and the immediacy and directness of working with the actual stone.

As an individual artist, I have the freedom to carve designs, figures or abstract shapes as I wish. Even a commission will always have my recognisable style, whereas a stone mason working on a historic building usually has to conform with the style of the original. However, in the case of this current restoration, each carver was encouraged to include one personal stone creation to commemorate their individual skills for future generations to discover.

To finish with another question – are we all carvers, stonemasons, artists or craftsmen and women, or a bit of each?

Leave your comment

Related posts