Coming Full Circle – ‘a Liquid Ledger Stone’

Finding Blake's creator and film maker James Murray-White has been following the careful and painstaking process of creating the new gravestone for William Blake's final resting place. Here he reports on the moment as the final letter is cut and stone nears completion under the hands of Lida Kindersley.

With a final tap tap of the chisel, and then a salutary finger wipe of the remaining dust that the letter cut had created, the last letter – an ’s’ – and William Blake’s new ledger stone was completed.

Lida has been working on this for six months, and has been involved in the planning for the stone for at least ten years since the Blake Society decided to commission it, after the discovery of Blake’s actual resting place within the Bunhill Fields cemetery. I’ve been filming Lida work on this, visiting every week to see progress and film the next line or word. I have enormous respect for her integrity and craft that glides from the chisel or pencil into every piece of work she designs and creates. It ’s been a tremendous pleasure to record her work, and chat very deeply at times – sometimes jokingly, sometimes philosophically and metaphorically too.

Cutting in progress Photograph: James Murray-White © 2018

At one with the stone

On this last session of cutting, she talked of really becoming one with the stone, and the stone coming into her, and we joked of a CGI graphic that could animate this: the letter cutter becomes stone, and the process completes. Making tender memorials is being face-to-face with the human experience of death – of lives that have lived, loved, and left, and our wish to memorialise them and leave something to honour them. Whether it is Blake, here known as ‘Poet — Artist — Prophet’, or my mum (on a smaller square of Portland Stone, to be completed next: ‘Potter’) or the many timeless and ethereal quotes on stone that are around the workshop and out in the world, memorialising and placing within the landscape makes up much of the work of the Kindersley Workshop. I feel we are blessed by this dedication to the letter, the word, and to humanity.

The phrase above that I’ve used, a “liquid” stone is adapted from an exclamation by one visitor to the workshop on seeing the stone: that the letters seemed both strong – ‘set in stone’ – and very fluid and liquid-like. Indeed they do, as the attached photos show. In this current intense light, changing as it does about 6.00pm from the full intense heat of these summer days and, as the stone has been in a corner of the workshop and with light from windows on two sides, the letters do appear to dance and their intensity ebbs and flows and eddies around the stone: particularly the name – big and bold – and the quote too, its shape and form as intense as the intricate meaning of the words themselves, falling back into a ball of string, anchoring you into Blake’s vision of a ‘holy’ Jerusalem and its gate.

Liquid light Photograph: James Murray-White © 2018

There have been long bouts of silence too, just the tapping of the chisel, and the sounds of the workshop – often other tapping sounds as other stones are cut – and I’ve got absorbed in the camera: the light, the sound, the recording, and thinking how I might edit the material and show the entire flow of the work. Lida has been absorbed in her work, learned at the stone face over many years and trained by her Master husband David, and with stone dust as well as the intense grip of the chisel turning her hand slowly white; and I’ve been absorbed in mine, recording, witnessing, hearing, watching, being with the presence of this mighty piece of shaped stone, and reflecting internally and with Lida about Blake and his value in this turbulent world. We’ve talked a lot, and I’ve come away many times and discussed with an array of people those three words highlighted above. And two or three times over the course of the cutting process I’ve gone away and stood face to face with a Blake painting – in the Fitzwilliam, in the Tate, and at the Petworth House temporary exhibition – and returned with the glory and detail of his angels and people and beings, and breathed in Blake by this glorious stone.

The end of a process

And now it’s completed – or nearly completed, as there still is the washing process, possible staining, and any gilding or painting within the letters, and the visit of the Blake Society to see the stone with all the letters completed. The organising committee came down for a morning a few months ago, to see the stone in its early stage, with the letters drawn before cutting began, and it will be a treat to see their faces erupt in smiles and delight when they see it now.

I’ve been reflecting deeply on this, the end of a process, a long slow sometimes laborious one: Lida often had to transfer to another project or to work with one of the other cutters or an apprentice; or I’ve not been able to go into the workshop for a few days, and have really missed the attention to detail and the friendship and companionship.

The hands of a master of the craft
Photograph: James Murray-White © 2018

Soon it will be out in the world, ready to attract visitors to it, who will pause and reflect a minute, and shine light onto the visionary world of poet — artist — prophet: William Blake 1757 – 1827:

“I give you the end of a golden string,
only wind it into a ball
It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate
Built in Jerusalem’s wall.”


Notes

Further information about the unveiling event to be held on August 12th in Bunhill Fields will be revealed on the Blake Society website in due course — and Finding Blake will there to film the event and pay our respects.

The Process of the Gravestone

Finding Blake's James Murray-White says "It has been a wonderful journey so far to be closely involved with the production of this new gravestone honouring William Blake, and it is only part way through! From visiting the stoneyard in January with Lida and Hallam to choose the huge piece of Portland stone that the slab would be cut from, to recently seeing it cut, cleaned, bevelled - and now upright in the studio with the letters drawn and the cutting underway - is an intricate, intimate knowledge of a process. I’m filming it, and I hope I can also convey the pleasure I’m having in visiting once a week or so, talking and listening through each stage, and recording it, and making short clips to illustrate it."

Triptych of images taken by James Murray-White while filming Lida cut more of Blake’s new gravestone at her Cambridge workshop: May 2018

I thought here I’d set out the process in its entirety, as explained by Lida:

  1. The gravestone is cut and cleaned at the stone yard, and then delivered to the Kindersley Workshop
  2. The stone is bevelled. This process takes a week, entirely done by hand
  3. The stone is put upright over the special area of the workshop designed for such large projects, with a hole in the floor to give full access.
  4. Freehand drawing of the letters upon the gravestone.
  5. Spellcheck: members of the Blake Society committee visit to check and approve spelling and design.
  6. Cutting begins.
  7. Washing the gravestone after letters drawn: final painting, staining, building completed.
  8. Preparation of the ground at Bunhill Fields: paving blocks, stone setting, landscaping etc.
  9. The ceremony! August 12th, 2018. The Blake Society are planning a beautiful ceremony with readings and a choir. Further details will appear here and on the Blake Society website nearer the time.

And Finding Blake will be there to make a special short film of the event. In the meantime, snapshots of the creation of the gravestone and of Finding Blake activities continue to be added to the project timeline in Our Story Continues.

We will midway through the process sit down and do a more formal interview about how she came to be commissioned, and her reflections on Blake, on letter-cutting, and the specifics of this stone, with much philosophy in-between, and I look forward to filming, editing, and sharing that.

An additional process to the creation of the stone was carried out by Lida and Hallam on behalf of the Blake Society: cutting chips of the surrounding discarded stone, to be given as mementoes to all who donate an amount to cover the cost of commissioning the stone and having it set. You can find out more about that on the Blake Society website.

Visiting Lida

In our latest post, artist Linda Richardson describes a recent Finding Blake visit to the workshop where William Blake's new headstone is being created by a master of the craft. "I recently had the great privilege of visiting Lida Cardozo Kindersley in the workshop on Victoria Road in Cambridge. She had begun to lay out the words on the Blake stone and James had come to film the process."

It has secretly been a long held desire of mine to visit this hallowed ground of letter cutters. For a few years, I had a stone masonry business of my own, where I learned not only the hefty art of lime rendering but also the fine art of letter cutting. Letters Slate Cut, one of Kindersley’s publications, was a great inspiration as I was learning and I used to drive past their workshop holding my breath, like someone passing the house of their favourite movie star.

Beautifully cut stones of all kinds

It was an overcast day but the workshop was bright, not only with daylight but with cleverly sited electric lighting. All around the walls and on every available worktop and shelf there were beautifully cut stones of all kinds, with many different fonts and inspiring words. In this place are held decades of lovingly crafted work, a tribute to the skill and care of generations of crafts people who not only produce some of the best letter cutting in the world, but remain grounded and humble. 

Lida was busy taking calls and then she had to spend some time with a sculptor who was making a clay likeness of Lida’s head. We chatted to her sons and after a little while Lida arrived completely unflustered, and calmly apologised for keeping us waiting. Then she settled herself in front of the huge piece of Portland stone and began to talk us through the composition and placement of the letters for the new Blake headstone. 

Letters drawn on stone:
Lines from William Blake’s ‘Jerusalem, the Emanation of the Giant Albion’
Photograph: James Murray-White © 2018

 

It was a joy to chat with her while she drew on the words, rubbed them off, drew them on again, rubbed them off again, put them on again, brandishing her specially cut pencils like magic wands. I was deeply gratified to see that she worked in exactly the same way as I did, writing and erasing, moving the words up, moving them down, erasing the whole lot and starting again. It gave me such a thrill to realise that I had been creating in exactly the same way as this highly skilled artist, but had thought myself incompetent because of all the erasing and re-drawing.

Where work takes as long as it takes

At break time everyone in the building stopped and met around a large refectory style wooden table where drinks had been prepared to everyone’s direction and a tin of biscuits was passed round. Amid plenty of convivial conversation and laughter, some of us tackled the Telegraph crossword and after half an hour, without a bell ringing or a word spoken, the company broke up to continue work. It was like a well oiled, well maintained machine that could run and run because nothing was over worked or stressed but all worked together like a beautiful clock. 

In the highly stressed, highly mechanised world we live in, it is a delight to visit crafts people and artists like this, where work takes as long as it takes and people are allowed as much time as is necessary to do their work to their highest potential. Without a doubt William Blake would have loved this place.

Since our visit, Lida has moved on to the cutting of the letters — a truly significant moment for the project of bringing William Blake’s new headstone to creation, and one which Finding Blake has been proud to document in these photos — with video footage to follow.

Lida Kindersley cutting the letters into Blake’s new headstone
Photograph: James Murray-White © 2018

 


Notes

Linda Richardson is an artist. Based in Cambridge, England, she makes work that engages the imagination and intuition and tries to make a creative space for the viewer to connect their inner nature with their outer nature to form ideas that are not rooted in convention, reason or rationality. However neither are they pure fantasy that provides and escape from humdrum life. Linda wants instead to awaken the senses to the beauty and wonder of the world in which we live, to activate the attention to the mystery of the human experience.

In a later post — coming soon — James Murray-White will summarise the whole process whereby Lida is creating the new headstone for William Blake, with further posts looking in more detail at some of the main steps.

You can find out more about the Cardozo Kindersley workshop in Cambridge at their website, and the publication Linda that mentioned: Letters Slate Cut – workshop philosophy and practice in the making of letters.

There is a series of readings of the full text of Blake’s Jerusalem, the Emanation of the Giant Albion on YouTube — part of a series of readings to be found in the Blake Society’s Voice pages, although this one was missing at the time of writing. As always, Wikipedia has an informative page on this book, “the last, longest and greatest in scope of the prophetic books written and illustrated by the English poet, artist and engraver William Blake,” which is not connected with Blake’s more famous poem Jerusalem.