17th Century master woodcarver Grinling Gibbons is widely regarded as the finest woodcarver of all time – his work graces the likes of Windsor Castle, St. Paul’s Cathedral, numerous churches in London and Hampton Court Palace. Gibbons’ carvings are characterized by unforgettable cascades of flowers, fruits and foliage.
David Esterly was asked to step in and reproduce the Hampton Court carving when a fire at the palace in 1986 destroyed a seven foot long Gibbons carving.
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[private_archives]Esterly is a master carver whose body of work is entirely in the Gibbons style, but it is the only reproduction work that he has produced. Instead, Esterly makes it a point to embrace the best of Gibbons’ style of carving, tossing the conventions of the period and pushing both the technique and the medium to their limits in an effort to create fresh design opportunities.
David Esterly’s work is as masterful as his philosophy. Below are examples of his carvings and his thoughts about art – contemplate the power of both – substitute any medium and the message still works.
David Esterly, Botanical Heads, Limewood
David Esterly, Works in Progress, Limewood
From Esterly’s website:
‘Don’t copy Gibbons or Arcimboldo or the Dutch still life painters; steal from them. Revive the old vessels – trophy, overmantel, overdoor, drop – but pour new wine into them, and rethink the designs so that they work even in a minimalist setting. Use a decorative vocabulary, but with sculptural intent. Bring back the delight in trompe l’oeil, but (limewood being a monochrome medium) make it a more sophisticated illusionism, based on form not color.’
‘To portray organic subjects in an organic medium is to say something that can’t be said any other way. And say it to the present age. In a time of radical destruction of the natural world, there’s a poignancy to the beauty of fine foliage carving and the manual skills required to produce it, a kind of reproach that sharpens our awareness of what we are losing. Back, then, to craftsmanship and beauty? No, forward to it.’