Carving for the Community - Just outside Four Lanes, near Redruth, Cornwall a couple take up carving

PUBLISHED: 17:41 06 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:53 20 February 2013

'Brand New Day' by Sarah Stewart-Smith

'Brand New Day' by Sarah Stewart-Smith

In this April issue, Cornwall Life meets a couple who have changed their careers to take up carving and looks at what they are doing in the community

Carving for the community

Cornwall Life meets a couple who have changed their careers to take up carving, and looks at what they are doing in the community

Just outside Four Lanes, near Redruth, is a place called Forest, notable mainly due to the lack of trees. This, though, is where Peter Martin and Sarah Stewart-Smith live and work. Peter and Sarah carve wood and stone, producing work from small-scale domestic sculpture, carving, lettering, to large public art works. They exhibit in various Cornish galleries including the Lander Gallery in Truro, the Market House Gallery in Marazion and the National Trust Gallery at Trelissick House, and supply work for various shows.

You may have also seen their public pieces around the county as they have produced work for the Eden Project, Cornwall County Council and local councils. These not only include sculpture but also carved gates and benches to fit into the theme of a particular development. Sarah says: "We are keen to use local materials where possible. Peter gets all of his timber from Cornish suppliers, and where appropriate we use slate and Polyphant stones for carving. We will carve most sandstones and limestones too," Peter adds. "The only thing we don't carve is granite, mainly because it doesn't allow us to carve detail into the finished piece that we like to do."

Twelve years ago life was very different for Peter and Sarah: Peter was a computer programmer and Sarah a radiographer. They both decided to quit work and take up carving full-time. Peter says: "I had been carving in my spare time and sold one or two pieces. The company I worked for offered voluntary redundancy so it was a now-or-never decision for me," Sarah explains. "I had been working in Ireland and come to the end of my contract. My degree was in Fine Art and I wanted to get back to doing something more creative and saw an ideal course in Weymouth." This course was in architectural stone carving and lettering, and it was here that the two met. After completing the course, they moved to Cornwall, where Sarah had been brought up, and started to work from Four Lanes.

One of the first commissions the couple received was from the Eden Project to provide a series of carvings for the 'Wild Cornwall' area of the site. "Eden was just starting at the time and this was the first of a series of commissions we received from them as the site progressed. It was a great start to our work in Cornwall." The latest piece they provided was the giant 'welcome pineapple' at the entrance to the project.

Peter adds: "We have been talking to the staff at Eden about the possibility of more giant timber fruits in the future, some of which may be used as benches to mark the various car parks on the site. That would be a fantastic job, as making the pineapple was great fun." Sarah also had the pleasure of carving the dedication stone for the core building, which was unveiled by the Queen. "I was honoured to be asked to produce the stone - and it's a great picture to have in your portfolio."

Their other commissions have come from the county and local councils, as well as local community groups. "We are very proud of the work we have produced locally," Sarah is keen to point out. "We are responsible for all of the artworks in Camborne, including the town's gates and benches, and Peter has just completed the carved entrance posts for Rosewarne car park."

Peter worked with other local craftsmen and suppliers to complete the work. The piece is a series of carved posts featuring animals and plants that can be found in a typical Cornish garden. These posts were linked with metal bands, with extracts from appropriate poems by local poet, John Harris.

Peter has also produced a nature trail and bench in Maningham Wood, Illogan. Each post in the trail has carvings of the animals you would expect to see in the various parts of the wood, and also has a little rubbing plate so that the children moving round the trail with paper and a crayon can collect an animal rubbing at each point.

They have also completed commissions for private clients. Peter has recently finished a tree carving for a client's garden at Portholland. "Annie approached me with the idea of a sea-themed carving. We discussed her ideas and I produced a clay maquette, including her ideas, with Neptune, a mermaid, dolphin, fish and seahorses all intertwined." Having agreed the design, Peter set to work initially roughing out the work with a chainsaw and then working with mallet and chisel to get the final shapes. Finally, he finished the surface detail of scales, shells, seaweed, hair and features with finer chisels. Annie was also keen to have an input into the carving, so Peter left areas to be completed, and for a couple of afternoons pointed out the techniques necessary to finish an area and let Annie finish them off.

Currently, Sarah is working on a commission for Bristol University to carve a commemorative text for a memorial garden at the university. Peter is working on the last of a series of carved rough-slate monoliths to mark the entrances to the nature reserve at Gwithian Towans, which is lettered and carved with a classic tinner's rabbit design.

This year Sarah intends to focus more on smaller pieces to go into galleries and is keen to continue developing her work, including using other materials with stone, like glass and steel. Her aim is to get a large enough body of work to have a one-person exhibition in September, although she has yet to decide on a venue for the show.

Peter meanwhile has another piece of public work with a tree carving in Penzance. The tree had to be condemned but rather than cutting it down completely, the trunk has been left, into which Peter will carve a 'green man' and woodland wildlife themed piece.

If you want to see Peter in action, he will again be demonstrating wood carving at the forestry enclosure at the Royal Cornwall Show on 4-6 June this year.

Peter Martin and Sarah Stewart-Smith, Forest, Four Lanes, near Redruth. (01209 831438, www.artcarvers.co.uk

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