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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.