After finishing the “Here be dragons” fire surround for the living room at our own home (see past “News” pages) , the wall in the other downstairs room was looking bare; I’ve been promising to get it done for around 5 years, so it seemed the perfect opportunity during lockdown to get cracking.
I’d actually been pondering about the design for a long time, but once the time arose to come up with something it all flowed quite easily. I had enjoyed looking at different kinds of knotwork design at the York Viking Festival earlier in the year, and decided to do something along those lines. This kind of knotwork was more interesting than the Celtic style I thought, as there was less repetition in the pattern and it was a lot more organic.
The knotwork was based on a 13th Century door side carving at Heddal Stave Church, Notodden, Norway, but I altered the dragons into an amalgam of various other medieval dragons I liked. The picture below shows my scale drawings, and the fire surround cut to size and in position before I took it down to begin carving.
Once I’d got to this stage with both uprights, with the background level and neat, it was on to the shaping of the dragons and the foliate aspects of the knotwork.
The mantle was staying blank on this surround, unlike the other which had the lettering on; this mantle was thinner, so the text was going on the cross beam. Choosing the right words was a real headache, as there wasn’t a vast amount of space and I wanted something in keeping with the medieval theme. I asked Shaun Clarke of Whisker Hill Pottery for his input, as much of his work is of this period, but as good as his suggestions were ~ words by John Dowland and Thomas Campion ~ they were just too long to use. I happened upon the line from Geoffrey Chaucer “Lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne”, which seemed perfect; “Craft” in this case referred to “love”, but I thought it could be taken literally in reference to carving etc. I found a font developed by William Morris which gave it all a real “Arts and Crafts” feel, and set to work.
All finished and in position!