After a burst of carving since the start of the New Year and a trip to the photo studio of the wonderful Tom Way, here are the results.
First, the piece that was featured in a recent blog post: a delightful exercise in Mongolian calligraphy saying “Happy New Year,” sent to me by my friend Zulaa in Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia. By the way, I noticed at once that it was executed in the shape of a Christmas tree, or whatever a Christmas tree is called in a Buddhist country. What I noticed later was that the vertical Mongolian words stand in the branches of the tree like candles. When I was a boy, we still had clip-on candles for our tree. It’s amazing the entire country didn’t burn down over the holidays.
By the way, this image (and images of some of the other Alphabet carvings) is now available on stationery cards, iPhone sleeves, even wall clocks! Click HERE to see.
Next, a gift. Thanks to my friend Colette Ruoff, I’ve become interested in carving in Tibetan–not because Tibetan is exactly an immediately endangered alphabet, but to note the fact that the Chinese authorities in Tibet are now teaching Tibetan children in Chinese, driving a wedge between the people and their history and cultural identity.
This is an amazing piece of walnut, provided by my friend Dave Wilson at Sterling Hardwoods in Burlington, featuring the Tibetan for “moon” and “water,” based on designs by the calligrapher Tashi Mannox, plus an amazing rippling effect produced by nature, wind, wood, and time.
Finally, perhaps the most creative, and certainly the most serendipitous, of the three. Dave Wilson also handed me a piece of red oak that was something between a treasure and a land mine: it had amazingly turbulent grain, but it also had a wicked crack that threatened to drive splinters into my hand every time I picked it up.
I started out, as usual, by looking at the board (which measured a very irregular 20″ x 8″ or so) horizontally, and nothing came to mind–but then I turned it vertical and at once the grain suggested those fantastic steep little mountains in the Chinese province of Guilin that feature so prominently in Chinese art, the steep verticals of the hills working in parallel with the vertical strips of writing.
At first I thought I might carve the first line of the Tao Te Ching (“The Tao that can be spoken is not the true Tao”) but it was too long. After a while, I gave up and tried Mongolian calligraphy again, and this time found a perfect two-character phrase that would fit the wood and its characteristic “imperfections” perfectly. I looked up what it meant, and there it was: “sunrise.” As if presented to me like a fait accompli. So of course I carved it and then painted it gold for the sunrise:
One day, if I ever find the right piece of wood, I’d like to recreate that sunrise about eight feet tall. Can you imagine it?