The Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making

The Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making

by David Esterly
     
 

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“A beautiful, intricate meditation on creativity and discovery, on fire and rebirth.” —Elizabeth Gilbert

Awestruck at the sight of a Grinling Gibbons carving in a London church, David Esterly chose to dedicate his life to woodcarving—its physical rhythms, intricate beauty, and intellectual demands. Forty years later, he is the

Overview

“A beautiful, intricate meditation on creativity and discovery, on fire and rebirth.” —Elizabeth Gilbert

Awestruck at the sight of a Grinling Gibbons carving in a London church, David Esterly chose to dedicate his life to woodcarving—its physical rhythms, intricate beauty, and intellectual demands. Forty years later, he is the foremost practitioner of Gibbons’s forgotten technique, which revolutionized ornamental sculpture in the late 1600s with its spectacular cascades of flowers, fruits, and foliage.

After a disastrous fire at Henry VIII’s Hampton Court Palace, Esterly was asked to replace the Gibbons masterpiece destroyed by the flames. It turned out to be the most challenging year in Esterly’s life, forcing him to question his abilities and delve deeply into what it means to make a thing well. Written with a philosopher’s intellect and a poet’s grace, The Lost Carving explores the connection between creativity and physical work and illuminates the passionate pursuit of a vocation that unites head and hand and heart.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A beautifully written account of craft and inspiration."—The New Republic (Best Books of 2012)

"A remarkable, beautifully written book."—The Times Literary Supplement (Best Books of 2013)

“This is a strange and wonderful book, simultaneously a meditation on the nature of making and a reflection on time. It is riveting.”—Edmund de Waal, New York Times bestselling author of The Hare with Amber Eyes
 

"David Esterly's memoir is a beautiful, intricate meditation on creativity and discovery, on fire and rebirth, on culture and history. Truly, this is a story to be pored over with love and admiration."—Elizabeth Gilbert, New York Times bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love and Committed

 

"This is a beautiful and remarkable book. David Esterly is a rare bird.  First and foremost, he is an artist and a craftsman. A virtuoso carver of wood, he makes objects of sublime beauty and accomplishment that enchant and amaze. He is also a gifted scholar. As a maker, he practices a tradition that operates, as he puts it “near the bedrock” of human cultural activity. His own story is woven through with fascinating insights into this tradition and the towering influences on his own practice. And he is a gifted writer. With the literary sensibilities of a poet, he describes how he came late upon his passion for carving and how the objects he makes take shape from the vibrant relationships between the wood, his tools and his own creative energies. Esterly writes in the same way that he carves - with a nuanced feel for structure and form, a revealing use of metaphor and an incisive sense of style.  Part cultural history, part detective story and part memoir, The Lost Carving will enlighten and delight anyone with a real interest in creativity, aesthetics and the human spirit."—Sir Ken Robinson, New York Times bestselling author of The Element

"Every now and then there comes along a memoir that stands out for its beauty, its ability to charm, and its insights into a life given over to art. This lovely book about woodcarving is just such a work. Entrancing."—Alexander McCall Smith, New York Times bestselling author of The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection

“A gripping account of the political maneuverings involved in a major restoration project and an intimate meditation on the nature and meaning of carving…Its heart lies in Esterly’s moving ruminations about the spiritual value inherent in fine craftsmanship and technique…Photos of Gibbons’ magnificent works enhance this romantic, lyrical prose portrait.”—Kirkus Reviews

 

“Esterly’s masterfully witty and nuanced prose makes it clear his writing prowess is at least on par with his woodworking skills.”—Carl Hays, Booklist
 

“A big moment for the obscure world of wood carving.”—The Wall Street Journal

“The Lost Carving is a book about the rewards of hard work and learning to appreciate one’s limits. It’s also an exploration of the ways in which great art can enrich our lives in the most tangible ways. This is a serious, beautiful book.”—The Boston Globe

“Profoundly satisfying. Gorgeous. The Lost Carving is a book about making, not just thinking.”—Star Tribune

“Profound and wondrous. Pulled off with such fluidity. Rich in thought and lovely in style. Esterly is that uncommon thing, a visual artist who can coax as much beauty from words as he can from his primary medium. Breathtaking.”—Salon.com

"A meditation on such universal issues as artisanship, creativity, and experimentation."—Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine

“[Esterly] is in love with the physicality of his art, the flowing together of hand and brain, of chisel and creativity.”—The Economist
 
“As intricate as his carvings, Esterly has shaped a story that captures the effort and uncertainty that lies behind the creation of art and beauty.”—Publishers Weekly
 
“[T]he lushness of Esterly’s language, his passion for creation, his reverence for the physical act of work…. [He] approaches life much the way he approaches his beloved wood: with reverence, passion, and respect, but also with a sense of delight.”—Philly.com
 
The Lost Carving is beautifully written and hauntingly evocative, a graceful meditation on art and craft…and the ties that bind us to the past.”—Maclean’s (Canada)

 

Publishers Weekly
In 1986, a fire at Henry VIII’s Hampton Court Palace damaged and destroyed countless woodcarvings by the 17th-century master Grinling Gibbons. The job of reconstructing the lost artwork fell to a small group of historians and artisans, including Esterly, one of the few woodcarvers in the world carving in the same fashion that Gibbons once did. Tracking the ups and downs of the project while contemplating the nature of art, rediscovering the intricacies of his chosen discipline, and exploring the process of creating, Esterly (Grinling Gibbons and the Art of Carving) has created a work that is part philosophic memoir and part treatise on true craftsmanship. A former poetry scholar, Esterly’s prose is enlivened by quotations from Yeats and Shakespeare, and often his words take on the imagery and rhythm of verse (“Then I’ll go back and open the drawer, put my hand in the stream, and lift out those days”). There are some interesting subplots as Esterly battles British bureaucracy that opposes his ideas for a Gibbons exhibition and tries to convince others that Gibbons’s work should be shown in its natural, uncolored state, but it is Esterly’s personal battle to live up to Gibbons’s work and aura that is at the heart of this work. As intricate as his carvings, Esterly has shaped a story that captures the effort and uncertainty that lies behind the creation of art and beauty. (Dec.)
Kirkus Reviews
Woodcarver Esterly (Grinling Gibbons and the Art of Carving, 1999) chronicles the year he spent at Hampton Court replacing a 17th-century masterpiece destroyed by fire. The fire was in 1986, and the author arrived three years later. From the detailed diary he kept at the time, he has crafted a gripping account of the political maneuverings involved in a major restoration project and an intimate meditation on the nature and meaning of carving. In 1974, when Esterly first saw a limewood carving by English master Grinling Gibbons, he was at loose ends and tired of a life oscillating between ultraintellectual pursuits and exhausting manual labor. Gazing on Gibbons' intricately wrought rendering of flowers and foliage, he writes, "somehow I was taking in the thing with mind and body at once." It was the promise of a unified existence that led him to take up chisels to emulate Gibbons' craft, and it was the expertise he'd acquired by 1989 that led to his commission to create a replacement for the Gibbons overdoor drop reduced to ashes, even though a faction within the Historic Royal Palaces agency argued that a British carver should be hired. Esterly would have more run-ins with turf-guarding bureaucrats who disdained his idea of a Gibbons exhibition (it took him eight years to get one at the Victoria and Albert Museum) and ignored his pleas to leave all the restored wood in the light, unvarnished state the artist had intended. These scuffles give the book its narrative drive. Its heart lies in Esterly's moving ruminations about the spiritual value inherent in fine craftsmanship and technique; trendy conceptual artist Jeff Koons gets some hard knocks for being blind to both. Photos of Gibbons' magnificent works enhance this romantic, lyrical prose portrait of "making and seeing…entwined together."

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143124412
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
12/31/2013
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
424,774
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“A big moment for the obscure world of wood carving.”—The Wall Street Journal

The Lost Carving is a book about the rewards of hard work and learning to appreciate one’s limits. It’s also an exploration of the ways in which great art can enrich our lives in the most tangible ways. This is a serious, beautiful book.”—The Boston Globe

“Profoundly satisfying. Gorgeous. The Lost Carving is a book about making, not just thinking.”—Star Tribune

“Profound and wondrous. Pulled off with such fluidity. Rich in thought and lovely in style. Esterly is that uncommon thing, a visual artist who can coax as much beauty from words as he can from his primary medium. Breathtaking.”—Salon.com

"A meditation on such universal issues as artisanship, creativity, and experimentation."—Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine

“[Esterly] is in love with the physicality of his art, the flowing together of hand and brain, of chisel and creativity.”—The Economist
 
“As intricate as his carvings, Esterly has shaped a story that captures the effort and uncertainty that lies behind the creation of art and beauty.”—Publishers Weekly
 
“[T]he lushness of Esterly’s language, his passion for creation, his reverence for the physical act of work…. [He] approaches life much the way he approaches his beloved wood: with reverence, passion, and respect, but also with a sense of delight.”—Philly.com
 
The Lost Carving is beautifully written and hauntingly evocative, a graceful meditation on art and craft…and the ties that bind us to the past.”—Maclean’s (Canada)

 

Meet the Author

David Esterly is the author of Grinling Gibbons and the Art of Carving and curated the Victoria and Albert Museum exhibition on Gibbons in 1998. He has been a professional limewood carver since the 1970s and has been profiled in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and The Financial Times. He has written for many magazines, including The Times Literary Supplement and House & Garden. He lives in upstate New York.

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