Literary Sculpture

Chainsaw artist Simon O'Rourke putting finishing touches on a 3m sculpture of svantevit, the slavic god of war. Svantevit is one of his many sculptures of myths and legends.

Sculptures of Myths and Legends

Sculptures of Myths and Legends 1365 2048 Simon O'Rourke

Mythology and folk stories have been the subject of several sculptures Simon has made. Each time there is a challenge for Simon. He needs to create something recognisable and something that tells the well-known story. At the same time though, he also wants to bring something fresh or unique. Creating sculptures of myths and legends helps preserve a culture, and aids us in passing down the stories that shaped a nation. It’s a lovely thing to be part of!
In this week’s blog, we invite you to join us as we revisit some of the sculptures of myths and legends that Simon has made…

Close up of St Georg in the St George and the dragon sculpture by Simon O'Rourke. This is one of his many sculptures of myths and legends.

St George and the Dragon

St George and the Dragon is the most recent of Simon’s sculptures of myths and legends. The client had a stump in her garden and contacted Simon to see what he could make of it. Many sculptures of St George show him either doing battle with the dragon or victorious after the fight. The client didn’t want anything too macabre in her garden though – understandably!!! So, in this case, Simon depicts George before the battle. We see him standing in his armour with weapons ready, as the dragon creeps up the stump towards him. If you would like to know more about the choice of St George, or the process of making the sculpture, visit our St George and the Dragon blog.

Sculptures of myths and legends: a portrait of st george and the dragon are carved into a standing tree stump. The sculpture is surrounded by flowering shrubbery. carved by simon o'rourke.

Svantevit

The next of our sculptures of myths and legends takes us to Eastern Europe. Svantevit is the Slavic god of war, fertility, and abundance. It was created for the exhibition at Putgarten, Germany in 2018. With his four heads, he is immediately recognisable to people familiar with Slavic mythology. He is also carrying a horn and sword which are an important part of the stories of Svantevit. Simon makes his mark though with his detail in the faces and texture in the clothing. The drapery in the cape in particular adds some lovely movement to this 3m sculpture.

Chainsaw artist Simon O'Rourke putting finishing touches on a 3m sculpture of svantevit, the slavic god of war. Svantevit is one of his many sculptures of myths and legends.

The Hydra

The Hydra from 2019 is the next of our sculptures of myths and legends Simon has created. Initially, this sculpture was going to be a flock of birds or an animal rising from the ground. When Simon arrived on-site though he found the tree was unsuitable and chose to create the Hydra instead. The devil is definitely in the detail as they say with this one though. Look at all that scaly texture and the individual teeth! Definitely a legendary sculpture!!!

Hydra tree carving sculpture by Simon O'Rourke, one of his sculptures of myths and legends

Close up of the Hydra Heads. A private tree carving commission by Simon O'Rourke

Close up of the heads showing the detail and texture.

Lancelot and Guinevere

From Eastern Europe and Greece, we come much closer to home for the next of Simon’s sculptures of myths and legends: Lancelot and Guinevere.
Simon created this sculpture at an event in 2010, and it beautifully depicts the romance between the two characters. Even if we had never heard the story of Lancelot and Guinevere before, we get a sense of that story through the characters’ pose and facial details. Their eyes alone tell a story! Although not as textured as Simon’s later sculptures, we also love the hints of movement in the clothing which add to the realism.
Simon named this sculpture ‘Forbidden Fruit’. This sense of the romance being taboo or forbidden is enhanced by his choice to show the characters beneath a fruit tree, which hints at the story of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit in the book of Genesis.

sculptures of myths and legends by simon o'rourke: guinevere kneeling at the feet of lancelot under a tree

Tegid Foel

Our next sculpture is another Welsh legend… Tegid Foel! Also known as ‘The Giant of Penllyn’!
Although the legend of Tegid Foel may be Welsh, he was created many miles away at Chetwynd International Chainsaw Carving Championship in 2012. Tegid Foel is the husband of Ceridwen in Welsh mythology. Funnily, the translation of his name into English would be ‘Tacitus the Bald’! Simon truly captures that description in this sculpture!
Just as Tegid Foel is a giant in Welsh mythology, this sculpture stands around 14′ tall. Simon carved him in separate parts and assembled him using scaffolding and a forklift truck. For anyone interested, Simon has an album documenting the process of creating Tegid Foel on Facebook. Just click HERE to see it. It also has close-up photos of details like the feet, belt, and hands. We definitely think it’s worth a look!


Sculptures of myths and legends: A giant sculpture of tegid foel by simon o'rourke.

Mabinogion Characters

Our last sculptures of myths and legends are also Welsh in origin. The Mabinogion is a compilation of Welsh stories, originally written in Middle Welsh. It’s thought they were compiled in the 12th Century but were passed down orally for years before that.
Back in 2010, Simon created sculptures of several of the characters in the Mabinogion (both human and animal) for a holiday park in Wales. There is something special about living and working in Wales, and being able to help preserve the history and culture of the nation in this way. Just like Tegid Foel, Simon added a full album of the Mabinogion on Facebook which you can visit HERE.
For now, we will just share these few.  The rougher ‘unfinished’ textures blend perfectly with the wooded surroundings. In Autumn they compliment the colours of the Welsh hills and woods, and in summer they contrast beautifully.

Sculptures of myths and legends: a triptych of wooden sculptures of characters from the mabinogion by simon o'rourke

Why Create Sculptures of Myths and Legends?

As we said, a sculpture of a local myth or legend helps us preserve culture. In generations past, we might have spent time telling local stories to one another or reading them for ourselves. The world has expanded massively though. Although this opens up new experiences and learning for us, which is fantastic, it is sometimes at the cost of losing something of our own history. Commissioning a sculpture that depicts local folklore can really help in sharing something of the history and culture with visitors and locals alike.

If you would like to commission your own sculpture of a myth or legend, contact us via the form on www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ and Simon will be in touch!

Alice in Wonderland booth carved by Simon O'Rourke for Steak of the Art

Sculptures based on Literature: Fan Art Series

Sculptures based on Literature: Fan Art Series 960 960 Simon O'Rourke

Over the years, Simon has created many sculptures based on literature. They have been for a range of settings, including libraries, schools, National Trust property, and even restaurants! No two pieces are alike, even when they are based on the same book. Simon has been asked to carve figures from several different genres, and include sculptures based on works by Shakespeare, Tolkien, Dahl, Carroll, Conan Doyle, and Beatrix Potter.
One of the nice things about sculptures based on literature is that often there is no definitive image of the person to have to replicate. Books allow the imagination to flow, and creating sculptures based on literature is no different. With a description but no image to work from, Simon can get creative as he carves. Join us as we revisit some of his literary sculptures from over the years…

tree carving sculptures based on literature by simon o'rourke. an open book with the title alice in wonderland and the chesire cat sitting on a hollow log to the right

Part of Simon’s Alice in Wonderland sculpture trail at Erddig National Trust property

William Shakespeare Sculpture

Early examples of Simon’s sculpture based on literature are these Romeo and Juliet figures. Two trees at a local holiday park had become intertwined.  This positioning meant they perfectly lent themselves to becoming Shakespeare’s famous lovers. Simon worked the angles and shape of the trees brilliantly to depict them gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes. There is no doubt they are infatuated with each other! As well as creating figures of Romeo and Juliet, Simon also engraved text from the play into the trunks. If you had to choose only one quote from Romeo and Juliet to include, what would it be?

romeo and juliet tree carving sculpture by simon o'rourke, one of his sculptures based on literature

Sabine Obermaier

Our next literary sculpture is much less famous: Christian and Martha from “The Midwife” by Sabine Obermaier. You may have seen this sculpture in our blog about the Huskycup through the Years, or our Review of the Decade. We also have a Facebook album where you can see a bigger range of photos. “Christian and Martha” was created for the Huskycup competition in 2012. It was created in collaboration with Tommy Craggs and Michael Tamozus – TEAM EUROPE! The public loved the piece – and so did the judges! Christian and Martha took third place, making it Simon’s fourth time to finish in the top five.

Christian and Martha, one of Simon o@rourkes sculptures based on literature. It shows the two characters sitting on a giant shire horse

Conan Doyle Bust

On a TOTALLY different scale to the last two, our next sculpture based on literature is this Sherlock Holmes bust. It was a private commission for a fan, created towards the end of 2020. As well as depicting Conan Doyle’s famous detective, it also has hints and clues to elements of Sherlock stories. A bust is a great alternative portrait sculpture if you are looking for something small or more portable. They always add a touch of class and are a more subtle piece of fan art than a full-size sculpture.

Sculptures based on literature: Sherlock Holmes bust by Simon O'Rourke

Tolkien Sculpture

Another recent favourite of Simon’s sculptures based on literature is Radagast. The character may not be as well known as Gandalf, but the sculpture has been a hit!
This sculpture is also a great example of Simon transforming something sad into a beautiful piece of art. It came about after a Blue Atlas Cedar was infected with Sirococcus. Trees with this disease must be cut back as a minimum, but younger trees usually die. Rather than lose the tree, the owners contacted Simon, and the tree lives on in the form of Radagast the Brown!

Radagast the Brown by Simon O'Rourke

Lewis Carroll Sculptures

Alice in Wonderland has been a VERY popular theme, and Simon has had several commissions based on the Lewis Carroll classic. It doesn’t get repetitive though. Each time he gets to reimagine the characters and tell different parts of the story. Every commission also has a different purpose and setting too. Some have been individual sculptures such as this series created for a park in Scotland…

Alice in Wonderland sculpture by chainsaw artist simon o'rourke. Figures carved in wood of around 6' show the quuen of hearts, king of hearts, alice and tweedle dum

Photo credit Paul Worpole

Or this caterpillar which formed part of an  Alice in Wonderland trail at Erddig National Trust. Erddig is local to us, and we love the place. Simon was lucky enough to be their artist in residence for a season too!

wood carving of the caterpillar from alice in wonderland by simon o'rourke

Other Alice in Wonderland pieces have included a themed booth for Steak of the Art in Bristol…

Alice in Wonderland booth carved by Simon O'Rourke for Steak of the Art

And this themed chair created for The Storyhouse in Chester. The chair was a donation (read the full story here) for the children’s library, and incorporates other elements not seen in the other Alice pieces Do you have a favourite?

alice in wonderland themed chair by simon o'rourke for storyhouse chester. one of his sculptures based on literature

Roald Dahl Booth

For our next piece, we stay with children’s literature. This time, the author is Roald Dahl, and the book is Charlie and the Chocolate factory. Several years ago Simon was commissioned to create a booth for Steak of the Art in Cardiff. It was the first of three installations he has done for the chain now (the second is the Alice booth above). Each gives him the challenge of combining structural and practical requirements with artistic elements. It’s fun spotting all the different characters in a scene like this, as well as different elements in the story. How many can you find?

Alice in Wonderland booth by Simon O'Rourke, Steak of the Art

 

Hans Christian Anderson

Moving on, the next of our sculptures based on literature is from the timeless classic ‘The Little Mermaid’. The Hans Christian Anderson protagonist has been depicted in many different ways over the years, including as a redhead with a fish for a best friend – thank you, Disney! Fun fact: This little mermaid by Simon is much bigger than the Copenhagen landmark which is indeed a very little mermaid at only 1.25, tall!

Sculptures based on literature: a tree carved little mermaid by Simon O'Rourke

Beatrix Potter

Of course, not all literary heroes are human. And so, for our next piece, we bring you one of Simon’s furry literary sculptures: Peter Rabbit. A favourite for generations, this little Peter makes a cute addition to this garden.  With the facial features and little jacket, it’s unmistakeably the Beatrix Potter bunny. Not only does it look like Peter Rabbit though, but Simon also perfectly captured his cheeky character. A fun take on a literary sculpture!

sculptures based on literature by chainsaw artist simon o'rourke: Peter Rabbit eating carrots

J K Rowling

It’s amazing that despite the popularity of Harry Potter, Simon hasn’t yet been asked to carve any fan art based on the series. We have a feeling it won’t be long until he is though! However, although it isn’t strictly one of Simon’s sculptures based on literature, we think this phoenix rising from the ashes looks a lot like Fawkes. Especially as Jason Cockcroft depicted him on the original hardback cover of The Order of the Phoenix. What do think? Could this be Fawkes?!

Close up of the upper part of "A Phoenix Arises" by Simon O'Rourke

Close up of the phoenix rising from the sun-like flames

Who Would You Choose?

We hope you enjoyed this selection of Simon’s sculptures based on literature. He certainly enjoyed creating them!
Of course, with so many wonderful books, not everybody can choose a favourite character for their home, garden, library or school. So maybe a montage is in order? Something like this sculpture “Learning to Fly” but with figures from many books incorporated…

simon o'rourke sculptures based on literature. Child standing on a atower of books.

If you would like to commission a sculpture based on a literary figure, we’d love to hear from you. Contact Simon via the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ and someone will be in touch to chat about ideas and details. We’re looking forward to hearing from you.