Myths and Legends

moving wood sculpture of a dragon by simon o'rourke

English Open Chainsaw Competition Entries Through the Years

English Open Chainsaw Competition Entries Through the Years 1160 770 Simon O'Rourke

Can you believe it’s already the August bank holiday weekend?! Time is definitely doing funny things! This weekend is a landmark in the Chainsaw Carving calendar, as it’s normally the English Open Chainsaw Competition. The competition is part of the Cheshire Game and Country Fair, and Simon has taken part many times over the last decade or so. Things are obviously a bit different this year, but we thought we’d mark the occasion by revisiting some of his English Open Chainsaw Competition Entries…

scene from english open chainsaw competition 2019

Where it all Began…

Simon first took part in the competition in 2004, and it was a key event in his career. It was his first competition, and he won third place. This helped prompt him to make a career from creating chainsaw-carved wood sculptures. After making that decision, he and his wife Liz set up Tree Carving in 2005… and the rest is history!

The 2004 Sculpture:

Despite being his first competition piece, the first of Simon’s English open chainsaw competition entries not only took third place but also gained national attention. At the end of the competition, artists can choose to auction off their pieces.  During that auction, Simon’s “Sleeping Girl” caught the attention of one of the Sandringham estate managers. Their bid won, and his sculpture was installed at the Queen’s Norfolk estate later that year. Not bad for a first-timer! National news networks picked up the story, which also helped as Simon began his carving career.

Unfortunately there aren’t many photos of this sculpture which proved to be such a landmark in Simon’s career. So, please forgive us the poor resolution of this photo! We promise the photos get better in the rest of the blog! If anyone is visiting the estate and gets a better photo, we would love it if you shared it and tagged us!

english open chainsaw entries by simon o'rourke: 2004 sleeping girl. A sleeping girl is carved onto a horzontal log

 

English Open Chainsaw Competition Entries: 2007

Simon has had a great deal of success at the English Open. In 2007 he created this whimsical fairy sitting on a mushroom. Although Simon’s style has evolved since then, and his sculptures become much more detailed, we can already see his ability to tell a story and create life-like human form sculptures. Judges also admired this piece and he placed first!

wooden sculpture of a fairy sitting on top of a mushroom, with woods in the background. the fairy is one of simon o'rourkes english open chainsaw competition entries from 2007

English Open Chainsaw Competition Entries: 2009

In 2008 and 2009 Simon also won first place with his Neptune sculpture. And once again, he demonstrated his skill at creating stunning human form sculptures.  We can already see much more of the texture that has become part of Simon’s signature style. His facial expression and details perfectly depict this wisened god of the sea, and that physique definitely reflects the power he is said to have.

 

english open chainsaw competition entries by simon o'rourke. Photo shows simon standing with a 10' sculpture of neptune carved onto a treek trunk

 

english open chainsaw competition entries by simon o'rourke. Photo shows simon standing with a 10' sculpture of neptune carved onto a treek trunk

 

English Open Chainsaw Competition Entries: 2010-2013

As Simon’s awards page shows, 2010-2013 were also good years for him at the English Open. He placed in the top two each year that he entered. By now he and Liz were a definite part of the tree carving community – one of the fun aspects of taking part in events and competitions.

The nature of chainsaw carving means many pieces are often on a very large scale. Some of Simon’s largest pieces have been the Marbury Lady and the Giant Hand of Vyrnwy. His 2013 entry wasn’t as large as these, but this giant bust definitely showed he could work on a large scale!

giant wood bust of a female. one of simon o'rourke's english open chainsaw competition entries

English Open Chainsaw Entries: 2014

During some competitions, Simon is able to take the opportunity to work on a commission. He may need to refine it later but is able to complete what he can during the time allocated for the competition. 2014 was one of those times. During the competition, Simon created this sculpture of Brother Francis. How special for a client to be able to say their sculpture is award-winning! The piece ‘only’ placed third, but the client was delighted, and this monk looks amazing installed among the trees, enjoying a moment of quiet contemplation.

life size sculpture of a monk sitting against a tree. Carved by simon o'rourke as one of his english open chainsaw competition entries

 

English Open Chainsaw Competition Entries: 2015

2015 was a winning year for Simon. He took first place with his incredible moving dragon sculpture. The detail is incredible with the scaly texture and attention to detail like the teeth and eyes. The movement was also a real novelty, and took Simon’s skill and creativity to the next level.

moving wood dragon sculpture

Hemlock today!

The sculpture didn’t sell at auction, but that turned out to be a good thing. Simon made some refinements to the sculpture and Hemlock was born! Hemlock has since travelled around the UK and is always a hit wherever she goes. She has helped to raise money for Clatterbridge Hospital and other causes, has taken part at ComicCon, and has even been part of a wedding! It’s true! She makes a great photo opportunity and is regularly treated to a dragon spa at the workshop (ie maintenance and repair!) to make sure she always looks her best at your events.

There is no doubt either that Hemlock played a big part in earning Simon his reputation for carving fantastic dragons. Since then he has gone on to create other incredible award-winning, viral dragon sculptures such as The Dragon of Bethesda, the egg casket from Game of Thrones, the yew dragon tower, and most recently, the fire-breathing dragon for The Dragon Tower that appeared on George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces.

To book Hemlock for your event (anyone thinking about a dragon-pulled Santa sleigh this year?!) email us using the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/, and we’ll be in touch!

moving wood sculpture of a dragon by simon o'rourke

 

English Open Chainsaw Competition Entries: 2019

Moving on to 2019, and the English Open was another great year for Simon. He took part in the ‘combo’ competition. This meant creating two sculptures over the three days, one made with only a chainsaw, and the other using any power tools.

His chainsaw-only sculpture was this beautiful, intricate fairy that took second place. You can see the range of Stihl chainsaws he used in the background!

Fairy carved by Simon O'Rourke at the English open Chainsaw Competition

The ‘full power’ event meant Simon could also use his favourite Manpa angle grinder and Saburrtooth bits. He created this angel who is looking truly serene. She doesn’t look at all like she’s been surrounded by chainsaw noise and sawdust for two days!!! She shows all of Simon’s trademark movement in her clothing, and attention to detail in the face. And, as always, Simon tells a story with this sculpture and invites the viewer into this moment of serenity with her. The judges loved her too, and she took first place.

Angel carved by Simon O'Rourke at the English Open Chainsaw Carving Competition

The angel which took first place in the ‘full power’ event

 

Future Events?

Right now we don’t know when the next event or competition will take place. As you all know, the world and regulations about public events change constantly. Competitions and events are usually a big part of Simon’s summer though. They go beyond an opportunity to carve and are usually a brilliant time to connect with other artists and gain more inspiration, knowledge, and skills. We find some of them actually make for a fantastic day out too for observers, such as Huskycup or the WoodFest.  We’ve definitely missed them this year, although a change is nice too.

However! Simon does still have some space in his calendar later this year for outdoor events, such as ice carving demonstrations at Christmas, or even something ‘autumn-themed’ for your October half term event. Although the large scale events can’t happen, there are still ways to include and enjoy a live demonstration. Email us at [email protected] or use the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ to ask about ideas and availability.

 

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.

The finished head

Huskycup Through the Years

Huskycup Through the Years 3648 2736 Simon O'Rourke

An annual highlight in the chainsaw carving calendar is The Huskycup. Every summer chainsaw carvers from around the world descend on Blockhausen in Dorfschemnitz and the sawdust starts flying! We absolutely recommend a visit at least once in a lifetime! As you might expect, this summer’s event has sadly been cancelled. But never fear! Just like our series where we brought Simon’s woodland trails to your home (click here for Part One, Part Two and Part Three), we thought we would bring the Huskycup to you! Join us as we look back as Simon’s entries in the Huskycup through the years…

Huskycup through the years: participants in the 2019 huskycup showcase

Simon and the other participants from the 2019 Huskycup

About Blockhausen

Before we revisit Simon’s entries at the Huskycup through the years, we have to share a bit more about the place. It’s incredible!

Blockhausen had its beginnings in something very practical: a hut to store forest management material and hay. SO different to its current function! You can read the full story at https://www.blockhausen.de/geschichte-gebaeude/wie-alles-begann/ , but nowadays it’s a venue for chainsaw carving courses, forestry training, open air museum, events venue, holiday destination, and hiking trail. In fact, it’s home to the largest collection of chainsaw art in the world! Oh, and if that isn’t enough, it also has a pretty great snack bar/cafe! Public can visit all year round, and hire various buildings. Many of them incorporate some fantastic pieces of chainsaw carving, so it’s like staying in an art gallery!

At certain times of year though, it is transformed into an arena for some of the world’s best chainsaw carvers. The largest of these events being Huskycup…

The Huskycup Experience

Initially Huskycup was an annual competition. As we mentioned in our Huskycup flashback blog though, it is now an exhibition event/showcase, although there is still a speed carving competition. Artists team up to create incredible chainsaw carving exhibits that tie in with a given theme. Simon participated for the first time in 2007 and has returned several times since then. It’s definitely a favourite event! Although he was very successful in competition, Simon prefers the more relaxed atmosphere of the exhibition. Primarily, it enables artists to feel more relaxed as they carve. It also allows them to take more time to enjoy each other’s creations, and try things they may not if there was the ‘risk’ of it not working out when they were being judged. It means teams can be more varied too as they aren’t restricted to a geographical region. Whether a participant, chainsaw artist, or fan, Huskycup is a great event to attend for community, and inspiration.

Huskycup through the years: crowds entirely fill a path in the woodland with chainsaw artists set up in booths alongside the path, carving various dragons

Crowds in 2019. Photo taken from the Huskycup website.

Simon and the Huskycup through the Years: The Beginning…

Simon’s first Huskycup experience was in 2007. He had to apply to organiser Andreas by sending a design. There was no theme for this year. This is a bit of a double-edged sword! It’s great because it allows for SO much variation. However, it can also be tricky to know what’s going to appeal. Simon was up for the challenge though! He created a giant marionette that really moves! The sculpture placed fourth on the competition – pretty good for a first time competitor! It’s still installed at Blockhausen and remains a crowd-pleaser today.

Huskycup through the years - 2007. A giant marionette created in oak by chainsaw carver simon o'rourke

2007 entry: Giant marionette

Huskycup Through the Years: 2008

2008 Simon’s brief was to create a naked man and woman cuddling! It was another success and he placed fourth again. For those wanting to see the sculpture, you’ll need to visit Blockhausen! After the competition, it was installed in one of the haylofts where people can stay.

A life size oak sculpture by simon o'rourke of a naked man and woman reclining rogether

Simon’s 2008 Huskycup entry

Huskycup Through the Years: 2009

In 2009 Simon paired up with Sebastian Seiffert to make TEAM EUROPE! This year teams created columns that depicted stories and legends from their home continent. Simon and Sebastian opted for a Celtic theme. Rather than tell specific stories though, they decided to show the seasons of the year as people. This unique approach impressed the judges, and they placed second! Their columns joined the other competitors, and they became the pillars supporting one of the log cabins.

Column holding up a large wood cabin. Created by Simon O'Rourke with celtic knots and featuring a nude woman

celtic knot column featuring nude woman by simon o'rourke

 

nude man incorporated into illar featuring celtic knotwork by simon o'rourke

nude man incorporated into illar featuring celtic knotwork by simon o'rourke

Huskycup Through the Years: 2010

2010 brought Simon a live model, Knut! The theme was ‘Miners from the Ore region’, and each competitor had a model dressed in their various uniforms. Simon’s placed second again with his miner, meaning he had now placed four times out of five competitions.

Simon and Liz O'Rourke pictured with Knut, an miner from the ore region and his likeness that simon carved in oak at huskycup 2010

Simon and Liz pictured with Knut

The Long Table

Blockhausen’s founder Andreas is always up to something big though, and the 2010 Huskycup was no exception! Each of the miners created was to help support a canopy over the table at Blockhausen. Not just any table either. The table is actually in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest table in the world! For those wondering how big a table has to be to make a world record, it’s a whopping 39.8m! That’s the equivalent of 23 men of average height in Germany! It seats 200 people, weighs two tons, and it safely holds around 10,000 bottles of beer! That’s a lot of people, and a lot of beer. It’s also a LOT of fun as people gather and sit together to enjoy food and drink from the cafe. The process behind building the table is fascinating, and you can read more at https://www.blockhausen.de/geschichte-gebaeude/laengster-tisch-2010/. For now, enjoy the miners!

life size miners created by various chainsaw artists act as pillars for a canopy over a 40m table

The 2010 Huskycup pillars in place alongside the table, ready for the canopy

 

life size miners created by various chainsaw artists act as pillars for a canopy over a 40m table while a man sands the table

Sanding the giant table!

Huskycup Through the Years: 2012

Simon returned to the Huskycup in 2012 and teamed up with Tommy Craggs and Michael Tamozus to make TEAM EUROPE! They created an incredible piece depicting Christian and Martha from Sabine Obermaier’s book, The Midwife. Once again, the team did brilliantly and took third place.

Review of the decade: Christian & Martha Huskycup 2012 by O'Rourke, Cloggs and Tamoszus

Christian & Martha Huskycup 2012 by O'Rourke, Cloggs and Tamoszus

Walk of Fame!

2012 was also the year that Simon entered the Blockhausen Walk of Fame! Just like the Hollywood version, it’s an honour to have your name on a star in the Blockhausen Walk of Fame. Unveiling is usually a big event!

Chainsaw artist SImon o'Rourke kisses his star in the blockhausen walk of fame

Huskycup Through the Years: 2016

The 2016 Huskycup was a memorable one for Simon because he took first place. The theme was Vikings, which left plenty of room for creative storytelling – something Simon LOVES to do. He depicted a daughter being taken away by a Viking warrior, while the father grieves. A moving scene! And, just as Simon is often inspired by classical artists such as Rodin,  this scene has hints of Michaelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” in the way the father reaches for his daughter as she is carried away. Winter or summer, it makes a striking exhibit in the Blockhausen open-air exhibition. We shared more about this in our blog about the 2016 and 2018 Huskycup, or you can check out the Viking Raid case study on the website to find out more.

 

Viking Raid at Huskycup 2016 by Simon o'Rourke

Viking Raid, Huskycup 2016

Viking Raid, Huskycup 2016

viking raid sculpture by Simon O'Rourke in the snow

 

Huskycup Through the Years:

By 2018 the Huskycup was no longer a competition. Rather, a showcase event. The theme was once again ‘Miners’. This time however, the finished pieces had a slightly different purpose. Rather than holding up a cabin or canopy, they were going to form that year’s Nativity scene. Simon’s task was to carve two miners that would eventually be two of the three wise men visiting the stable. You’ll see from the pictures that by now Simon had been introduced to Saburrtooth. Their burrs have enabled him to take his facial details to a whole new level! They now form a staple part of his tool collection along with his faithful Stihl chainsaws and Manpa multi cutter and angle grinder.
Once again he had live models, and they looked pretty happy with the finished sculptures of themselves!

Huskycup through the years: Simon O'Rourke Working on details of the miners at Huskycup 2018

Working on details of the miners at Huskycup 2018

 

Working on details of the miners at Huskycup 2018

Using a Saburrtooth burr to create the eyes of a miner

The finished Miners, Huskycup 2018

The finished Miners, Huskycup 2018

Huskycup Through the Years: 2019

2019 was another amazing Huskycup for Simon, as you’ll know if you ready our Huskycup 2019 blog. He teamed up with Keiji Kikodoro, where they had the task of creating a sculpture with the theme ‘dragons’. Simon’s relationship with Keiji goes back years, and he has been privileged to carve with him in Japan. As regular followers know, Simon has MANY dragons in his portfolio, and is something of an expert dragon carver. His most recent dragon sculpture even breathes fire! He wanted something completely unique though for Huskycup 2019, and came up with this idea:

Initial sketch of Water Dragon by Simon O Rourke and Keiji. Learn these skills in our online art courses with Simon.

The initial concept sketch by Simon

When we look at the finished piece, we see glimpses of the way dragons are traditionally portrayed in the cultures of both artists, and there is no doubt that their teamwork created something fantastic. Even without the competition, this is a winner!

Water Dragon by Keiji Kidokoro and Simon O'Rourke Huskycup 2019

Water Dragon by Simon and Keiji at Huskycup 2019

Profile view of the finished Water Dragon

Profile view of the finished Water Dragon

The finished head

The finished head

Huskycup 2020

And what about Huskycup 2020?
Well, at this point it’s hard to say. Andreas has postponed the main event, and planned a ‘mini huskycup‘ for October of this year, but whether Simon can be there or not is very much up in the air. If it goes ahead, the theme is ‘Brothers Grimm’, and participants are free to choose either modern or traditional interpretation. What a lot of scope for amazing fantasy sculptures AND human form. Some of Simon’s favourite kind of projects!

Either way, we feel strongly that safety needs to come first, so we watch and wait, and will choose wisely at the time, within the regulations.

Even if it goes ahead, it will be with much reduced attendance. So, with little likelihood of you enjoying Husycup in person this year, we hope you enjoyed seeing Huskycup through the years from Simon’s perspective. If you can’t go the the event, we bring the event to you!

But seriously, if you can ever get there, we recommend attending a Huskycup. The atmosphere is amazing, the carving off the charts, and the venue stunning. Andreas has created an incredible destination, and a great event, and it’s definitely been a highlight to be part of the whole thing.

If you feel inspired by any of these sculptures to commission your own, contact Simon using the form on www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

TV presneter George Clarkes standing in from of a small stone building with a wall mounted fire breathing dragon made from redwood by Simon O'Rourke

A Fire Breathing Dragon

A Fire Breathing Dragon 768 1033 Simon O'Rourke

This week Simon was featured on the series opener of Amazing Spaces. It was a great episode, featuring some spectacular architecture and engineering. Simon’s contribution? A 7ft fire breathing dragon!

The Clients

Local couple Guy and Tracey commissioned the fire breathing dragon. They were renovating a former bakehouse, and it was to be the finishing touch. When they approached Simon, he knew he couldn’t say no. He always loves a challenge, so a wall-mounted, fire breathing dragon was a project he couldn’t turn down!

TV presenter George Clarkes standing in from of a small stone building with a wall mounted fire breathing dragon made from redwood by Simon O'Rourke

George Clarke with the fire breathing dragon

The Building

The building itself is incredible. When Guy and Tracey bought their property, it came with a small stone building, which was a former bakehouse. Although it only measures around 3m x 2.5m, they had the idea to turn it into a little crash pad/den. A mini-house!
Space was obviously going to be an issue. Guy is a gifted engineer though and came up with an ingenious fix. In his own words:

“Your bathroom only needs to be big when you’re in it, so I figured you could have the whole bathroom wall moved across and stuck on the wall, and when you need it, pull it towards you to create the bathroom”

That’s right! Guy created a disappearing bathroom to maximise the space! George Clarke was so impressed, the property now ranks in his top three builds!

A Dream Holiday Home

Now finished, the property is a beautiful little getaway, ideal for a couple. Once lockdown is over, it will be available to rent via www.thedragontower.co.uk. If you are impressed with the creativity and engineering, you can also follow them on Twitter where they share more about the process.

fire breathing dragin made from redwood by simon o'rourke mounted on a small stone two storey building

The Story of Maggon the Dragon

The idea for Maggon the Fire Breathing Dragon came from Tracey. The fairytale look of the bakehouse captivated her, and she made a joke about needing a dragon to protect them. Tracey is also a big fan of children’s literature and illustration and had always wanted a piece of fantasy art. And so from there, the dragon commission was born! They also had the idea that he could breathe fire when the doorbell rang. Such a fun, and creative finishing touch to a creative and ingenious renovation!

Initially, they planned on making the dragon themselves. But then, they met Simon. His portfolio includes many incredible dragons, including the well-know Dragon of Bethesda. His background as an illustrator also tied in with Tracey’s love of children’s illustration. So all in all, he was the perfect fit for this commission.

redwood fire breathing dragon mounted on a small stone bake house in north wales

Making Maggon the Fire Breathing Dragon

Maggon is 7ft and made from a fallen redwood tree. The warm red colour is perfect for this property in North Wales, as it reflects the red dragon on our flag.
Nerd alert! In dry climates, redwood actually becomes a lighter-silvery tan shade if left to weather naturally. These clients needn’t worry though. In damp climates, redwood darkens, so the North Welsh weather will mean that lovely red colouring is retained for years to come.

Engineering Challenges!

The most obvious challenge for this commission was how to make it breathe fire! In this case, Guy had a plan, and Simon’s role was to create a cavity within the sculpture for the propane pipe. If you saw the episode you will have heard Tracey joking about the dragon breathing fire when the doorbell rings. So, for the curious among you.. yes, it is really connected to the doorbell! However, Guy and Tracey wanted to make the fire breathing dragon as environmentally friendly as possible. For this reason, they limit his ‘bursts’ using their own control box – which also helps limit accident potential! Health and Safety matters!

Another problem for Simon to think through was the installation. The dragon not only needed to breathe fire but was going to be mounted on the wall of the house – as if it was climbing towards the window. This meant keeping strictly within certain specifications so it would fit the space. It also meant Simon needed to create the dragon in sections so it would be easier to mount on the wall. Being able to visualise this and take account of it in the design is an essential aspect of larger projects.

More About Making a Fire Breathing Dragon

Simon used a few different Stihl chainsaws with various bars to create the main shape of the dragon. He also used these to begin to add a few cuts that give depth, and some of the more general shape and texture. No dragon is complete without scales though! Simon created the scales with the Manpa Tools Multicutter with a round cutter attachment. The friendly grin (we didn’t want Maggon scaring off guests!) and other facial details were created using Saburrtooth burrs.  The flame-shaped burr is an especially useful tool for these projects. You can see a bit of a ‘before and after’ in this photo, Tracey and Guy took in the workshop. Simon has created the main shape and some details with the chain saw, and begun to add the scales with the multi cutter around the dragon’s hind legs.

close up of a dragon tail made out of redwood

Although it took several days to create Maggon, you can watch the process in under a minute! What are your guesses for who the sculpture in the background will be?

Being on Amazing Spaces

As an artist, it is always an honour to have a piece featured on television. The focus of the show was the build itself, but Simon did also get to meet George Clarke on unveiling day, and enjoyed a good chat! He also loved seeing the build too:
It’s incredible what they’ve managed to do with such a small space! It was great to be involved and to add to a project like that.

chainsaw artist simon o'rourke with TV presente George Clarke. They are pictured in front of The Dragon Tower, a stone bake house converted to a guest house in NOrth Wales. Simon is holding a Stihl chainsaw

Simon with George Clarke and a trusty Stihl chainsaw!

What’s Your Fire Breathing Dragon?

Thank you to those who took the time to comment on social media. It is always lovely to hear from you, and we’re touched by all the great feedback.

If you have a rental property, a novelty piece of art is a GREAT way to make it stand out, and to attract attention – and gain business! If you have an idea for your home or rental property, why not have a chat with Simon? Contact us using the form on www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ and someone will be in touch!

Thank you for reading our blog! Don’t forget to subscribe to make sure you don’t miss any of our posts.

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 Sculpture

St George and the Dragon Sculpture 720 960 Simon O'Rourke

It’s a day late, but Happy St George’s Day to my English friends!
It’s actually quite the week for important days. The Queen’s birthday, St George’s Day, and the anniversary of both Shakespeare’s birth and death. Definitely lots of choice there for a blog that fits the calendar! We decided to balance out all the dragons on this blog a little though, and share about this St George and the Dragon sculpture. I actually carved the piece earlier this year, so you might have seen the pictures on social media already. Every sculpture has its own story though,  so keep reading to find out about this one…..

St George and the Dragon tree carving sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

The Subject

This St George and the dragon sculpture was a commission from a client in the south of England. She had an oak stump in the garden, and began exploring ideas with Simon as to what it could become.
Commissioning a sculpture is never just one email requesting a particular subject. There is the actual timber itself to consider (is the size, shape etc suitable), client preferences, artist vision and skill, and the overall impact in its environment. Investing in a piece of art isn’t a small decision, especially when it’s a tree stump and physically not so easy to move as selling a small picture!

In this case, of the ideas discussed, St George was most meaningful to the client. St George’s Day is special to her as it is also her birthday! The sculpture will now be part of her annual celebration as, in her own words, she can “raise a glass every year standing by [her] stunning tree carving!”

Original client concept sketch of St George and the Dragon by Simon O'Rourke

Original sketch for the commission overlaying the stump

Finalising the Design
Once a subject is chosen, there is still more discussion between Simon and a client. Simon will share some of his ideas, as well as talking about how to make that happen. He will take into account not only the kind of piece the client wants, but also the timber. Sometimes there may be cracks that need to be taken into account. Other times there may be a beautiful grain pattern. Sometimes knots or the shape of the branches will lend themselves to a particular feature.
Close up of St Georg in the St George and the dragon sculpture by Simon O'Rourke
Refining an Idea
In this case, some of the main conversation points were focused on:
Scale
Given the diameter of the trunk, St George couldn’t be life size. Simon suggested that instead, he could be stood on a precarious pile of rocks, which would give a nice context. Ultimately, St George would need to be no higher than 18″. This ‘miniature’ turned out to be a fun contrast for Simon, as it immediately followed the Marbury Lady!
Story
Those of you familiar with Simon’s work, know he takes his inspiration from artists like Rodin and Bernini. They changed the concept of portrait work from being static, to telling a story. In the same way, Simon’s work always invites the viewer into a narrative. In this case there was a natural story to tell…..the legend of St George and the Dragon.
St George and the Dragon sculpture by Simon O'Rourke
Choosing the Narrative
SPOILER ALERT!
For those who are unfamiliar with the story of St George and the Dragon, basically an English knight tames and slays a dragon. Simon suggested that this sculpture incorporate that story. His suggestions included portraying George in the act of stabbing the dragon with a spear.
Alternatively, he suggested the dragon could be underneath him, or it could be rearing up above him, even adding wings on to give a striking silhouette.
This is where dialogue is important, as although these ideas could look fantastic, they weren’t fully what the client was after. She had concerns stabbing the dragon could look a little macabre (and who wants to celebrate a birthday that way!!), and wanted the emphasis on St George.
With this in mind, Simon decided to include the dragon as part of the story, but to merge it into the trunk. As well as hinting at the legend, this would also have the effect of emphasising the figure of St George. And so, the St George and the Dragon sculpture was decided!
Dragon from Simon O'Rourke's St George and the Dragon sculpture
Creating the St George and the Dragon Sculpture

As you look at the concept sketch next to the finished design, you will notice it wasn’t identical. This is part of the process of working with wood. When Simon saw the stump in person, the design changed due to the centre of the tree being offset. This meant that as it ages, it won’t split as much, as if he had used the original design.

Concept sketch with finished st george and the dragon sculpture

Creating this in the client’s garden involved copious use of the Stihl battery saws. As he was carving, Simon hit a few nails, hence the dark blue staining on the inside of the tree. Luckily he had spare chain with him for the saw he was using for detail. Hitting metal with that delicate chain is usually terminal for the cutters!!

 

St george and the dragon in process

The sculpture as Simon finished with the chainsaws, and was ready to begin with the smaller tools.

Saburrtooth burrs also played a bit part in the detailing. The detail on the face was made using the 3/8″ eye cutter and 1/4″ taper – a couple of staple tools that Simon relies on.

 

Visible detail on St George and the Dragon Sculpture by Simon O Rourke

Visible detail on the rocks and dragon

And that brings to an end our story of the St George and the Dragon sculpture!
We hope you enjoyed hearing a little more about the process behind finalising a design.
If you would like Simon to create something truly unique for your own home, garden or business, contact him on [email protected]
Although at the moment he is unable to carve at the moment, he is still able to sketch ideas and work on initial concepts and quotes, as well as working on his upcoming online art courses.

Next week, as we can’t go outdoors and travel as much, we will be bringing some of the UKs forest trails to you instead!

We leave you with the time lapse of the creation of this stunning St George and the Dragon sculpture.
Stay safe, and stay well.

 

 

 

Thinking about superheroes: spierman by simon o'rourke

Thinking About Superheroes

Thinking About Superheroes 960 960 Simon O'Rourke

This week we’ve been looking through old photos and videos, and remembering some fun commissions.  There are several comic book characters among Simon’s past pieces, which got us thinking about Superheroes. Come and join us on this walk down memory lane, thinking about superheroes Simon has made before…..

Wooden Batman carving by Simon O'Rourke

Some superheroes like Batman have great physical strength, intellect, wealth, and some awesome technology! This batman sculpture also helped sell a house!

Thinking about superheroes: spierman by simon o'rourke

Other superheroes have incredible agility. And let’s not forget their unfortunate back story (radioactive spider bite anyone?) and profound quotes!

thinking about superheroes: superman wooden illustration by simon o'rourke

When thinking about superheroes, we can also be impressed by their lightning speed. Or their ability to fly. Or,  and the way they somehow still ‘get the girl’ whilst wearing their underwear on the outside!

groot tree carving sculpture by simon o'rourke

Other superheroes warm our hearts with their likeability and loyalty. And sometimes wow us by growing body parts whenever they’re needed!

comic book illustration in wood by simon o'rourke

When we’re thinking about superheroes, they usually defy expectations, and can perform superhuman feats. All whilst looking great in lycra! This one even controls the elements – something I bet we all wish we could do from time to time!

Thinking about superheroes illustrated wooden panel y simon o'rourke

Beyond the Comic Books

It’s fun thinking about those superheroes. It’s also fun to sculpt those superheroes, and we hope you enjoyed this flashback to some of Simon’s work from the past decade. But in thinking about superheroes of comic books and movies, we also can’t help but think about the superheroes all around us at the moment.

We see superhero parents, trying to balance working from home whilst educating their children.

Superhero shop workers and public transport drivers, often working without PPE to ensure we still have what we need.

There are superheroes volunteering with foodbanks, donating money and helping neighbours.

Lockdown can bring out the worst in people, but it can also bring out the best. And we honour all of you every day superheroes today.

BUT as we’re thinking about superheroes, we especially want to take this opportunity to public thank and honour our NHS heroes. We see the numbers, we see the online photos of the damage done wearing PPE all day. We see you carrying on and making sacrifices for the wellbeing of others. And we’re thankful.

Some superheroes wear lycra and a cape. Others wear stethoscopes and facemasks.

So to all our NHS and Healthcare Superheroes out there, we thank you.

Stay safe.

Simon O'Rourke creating an oak maiden using Stihl battery chainsaw

Creating an Oak Maiden

Creating an Oak Maiden 720 960 Simon O'Rourke

There are two approaches to tree carving that Simon practices. The first is to design the piece, and then find timber suitable for the project. The three footballers that you may remember from last year are an example of this. In fact,  as you may remember from the Queen of the South Legends blog, completion was actually delayed because of sourcing timber after the original piece had a split.
The other approach is carving a standing stump. This means letting the tree dictate the design rather than the design dictate the timber. Sometimes the shape inspires the subject. Other times, it means making changes to the design along the way to accommodate the shape, size, twists turns and any surprises once the bark is stripped and Simon begins cutting. This was certainly the case with Simon’s latest project: creating an Oak Maiden.

Simon O'Rourke creating an oak maiden using Stihl battery chainsaw

 

Creating an Oak Maiden: The initial concept

This Oak Maiden looks incredible! However, she wasn’t actually what Simon had planned! The client who commissioned the hydra rising out of the ground, had asked Simon to look at another tree. There was an oak that had died and she wondered if it would make a good sculpture. When Simon first saw it, he could see female form. He also noticed the many branches at the top. Rather than cut these off, he imagined them to be a key part of the sculpture. And so, his initial concept was Medusa. The trunk could be transformed into a striking female form, and Simon imagined those undulating branches would make perfect ‘snake hair’. As a Greek mythological character, she would be a beautiful compliment too, to The Hydra. The client agreed, and Simon arrived at the start of last week expecting to create another Greek myth…..

Simon o'Rourke in the process of creating an oak maiden

Day one of creating an oak maiden. It’s easy to see why those branches suggested Medusa!

Creating an Oak Maiden: Change of plan!

Just as happened with The Hydra though (originally it was going to be a flock of birds or pterodactyls rising from the ground), once he began work, Simon realised that his original design wasn’t going to work. The branches at the top simply weren’t right, and he knew it would be better not to try and make them into snakes.

This flexibility and ability to respond to the timber is part of what makes Simon a great artist. Adapting his design to the work with the shape and features of the timber means creates sculptures which aren’t contrived. In fact, one comment on his Marbury Lady sculpture was that it seemed like she was always there in the timber, and Simon simply uncovered her.

An Oak Maiden by Simon O'Rourke

Creating an Oak Maiden: Adapting the Design

Adapting the design to work with the branches was an aesthetic decision. However, sometimes Simon also has to make changes because of practical reasons. This isn’t just about what he can see either. He also has to take into account what will happen to the timber as it ages. What may seem a small crack at the time for example, could cause massive damage to a sculpture later if he isn’t wise.

Another change in creating this oak maiden was because of one of these practical considerations. When we look at the oak maiden, her ‘crown’ appears bulkier to the left. In his ‘ideal’, Simon would have reduced some of that wood to create a more elegant or slimline look. However, there is a large amount of weight in the branches above it. This meant Simon faced the choice of losing some of that weight (and some of the rustic, organic, woodland feel to the character), or adapting his initial vision.

Simon O'Rourke Oak Maiden with moon

Close up showing the bulk of wood on the left

Creating an Oak Maiden: More Changes!

Simon chose to leave the wood on the left side of the face, to support the weight above it, and again demonstrated his skill at using challenges to create something even better! The extra wood became this fantastically textured crown instead, rather than being unnecessary bulk, it is now part of the story that Simon tells through sculpture. The weight and size is suggestive of a crown that now seems to enhance the status of this Oak Maiden. It reflects the strength and majesty of an oak tree, and conjures up an image of this Oak Maiden being a princess or queen among the woodland characters.

simon o'rourke in the process of creating an oak maiden with the stihl MS400

This photo gives a sense of the scale of the sculpture

Creating an Oak Maiden: Sculpting Human Form

One of the things that makes Simon’s human form sculptures so exceptional, is his attention to story and structure and how they create movement. We saw this with the Marbury Lady and Prestatyn Hiker that you may have spotted on Facebook or Instagram. The clothes in both showed the lines and wrinkles associated with being worn by a living, moving being rather than being hung static in a wardrobe. In this case particularly paid attention to the shape of the form underneath the cloth. For example, the skeleton, muscles, shape, size and position of the subject. Similarly to the Marbury lady, he also left raised wrinkles to imply a very thin material which skims the body.

Body of the Oak Maiden by Simon O'Rourke

Creating an Oak Maiden: The Tools!

It sometimes seems amazing to think that suck a beautiful thing can be created by something as destructive as a chainsaw! In the case of the Oak Maiden, Simon relied a lot on the Stihl MS400. Stihl’s MS400 is the first chainsaw  to make the change to a magnesium piston. This, and it’s “impressive power-to-weight ratio of 1.45 kilograms per kilowatt”, has made it much more ‘punchy’. Combined with the 20 inch Tsumara carving bar, Simon found  it worked really nicely for controlled shaping.
The Saburrtooth bits have fast become an essential on the job too. These are largely what Simon used for refining the face and hands, creating small areas like the eyes, and adding texture. Some of his favourites are the conical burr, and the large coarse flame bit. The small eye bit also helped create sharper lines and bring more expression to the eyes.

Face of an oak maiden by simon o'rourke

This nymph (or as we’ve been calling her, ‘Oak Maiden’) has definitely been a hit on social media. Most importantly though, the client loves her! The Oak Maiden may not have been the original plan, but Simon has created something even better and truly lovely, restoring life to this dead oak.

If you have a dead tree on your property, why not chat with Simon to see if he can imagine something in it? He loves to bring life back to dead or damaged trees, and can create you something completely unique. Contact him on [email protected] to talk about ideas and quotes.

 

Simon O'Rourke creating the Lady of Marbury sculpture

The Marbury Lady Sculpture

The Marbury Lady Sculpture 960 960 Simon O'Rourke

Those of you follow Simon on social media will have already seen his stunning Marbury Lady sculpture.
The sculpture is inspired by a ghost story associated with the former Marbury Estate. People in the area frequently claim to have seen this ghost, as she haunts the park. The most recent sighting is reported as being last year! Simon has carved many figures from books, moviesmyths and legends, but we think this is the first time he has carved a ghost!
We had another reason too for wanting to share her story. The Marbury Lady sculpture is carved from a  tree that died due to salt poisoning. We wanted to share a little more about it to highlight the issue, and hopefully help prevent unnecessary damage and death to other trees.

Simon O'Rourke's Marbury Lady sculpture viewed from the road

The Marbury Lady viewed from the road

The Location:

Marbury Hall was a country house in Marbury, near Northwich. Several houses existed on the site from the 13th century, which formed the seat of the Marbury, Barry and Smith-Barry families, until 1932, and the story behind the mysterious Marbury Lady is connected with James Smith Barry, who inherited the hall in 1787.
The buildings have all fallen into disrepair though and no longer exist on the site. It is now woodland known as Marbury Country Park. 

For any interested in visiting, it’s a great spot for a walk. You can wander along the mere with splendid views over the water to the church at Great Budworth, or explore the arboretum (the avenues of limes are quite well known) and community orchard. There is also a play area and swimming pool.

The park is cared for by The Friends of Anderton and Marbury (FOAM). They not only look after the park, but have a busy programme of walks, talks, conservation tasks and events. If you are thinking of visiting, it’s definitely worth checking out their website to see what they have happening. It was FOAM who commissioned the Lady of Marbury sculpture, after the death of several of their trees due to salt poisoning.

The Lady of Marbury sculpture by Simon O'Rourke in process

At work on the sculpture

Salt Poisoning

So what is salt poisoning?
Basically if a tree is exposed to too much sodium, it stops the flow of potassium and magnesium. In turn, this stops the tree making chlorophyll. For those who can’t remember their high school science, that’s the ‘green stuff’ needed by plants to turn light from the sun into energy (photosynthesis)! Salt is so effective n this, you can actually use it to intentionally kill a tree –  or any plant!

Salt damage is extremely common, especially in urban areas in the winter when we use salt to de-ice the roads. Spray from the roads hits the tree, as well as being absorbed/spread through running water, and melting ice and snow.

Early sign to watch out for are the edges of the leaves turning brown. At this point it is still possible to reverse damage and prevent death through leaching – basically just adding water to the soil. Good drainage is a key factor too in preventing and curing salt poisoning. If you need to know more, we found this helpful article on reducing the salinity of soil that you might find interesting.

In the case of Marbury Park, the trees were damaged by salt leaking from a split brine pipe.
However, rather than remove them, FOAM decided to give them new life, and commissioned Simon to create something….

Simon O'Rourke creating the Lady of Marbury sculpture

The Story of the Marbury Lady

FOAM wanted one of the damaged trees to represent something of the Marbury Park history. There are several ghost stories connected to the area, but the most well known locally are the variations of The Marbury Lady.

The version Simon chose to tell is of the Egyptian lady. Smith-Barry traveled extensively, and spent much of his time in Italy, Greece and the Levant. It is said that on one of his travels he met with a lovely Egyptian girl. He fell madly in love with her, and when he had to return to England, he told her he would send for her to follow him and make her his wife. As in all good romances though, there was a third person involved, and this is where stories begin to vary. Some say there was an arranged marriage, others a scandal with a housekeeper. Either way, Smith-Barry failed to send for his Egyptian lady…..

Marbury Lady Sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

The Story Continues…..

Some time later it is said that the Egyptian lady came to England. Again, stories vary at this point. Some say she worked as his housekeeper, others that he kept her as a mistress. They all agree though that she asked that when she died, her body be embalmed and kept in the hallway at Marbury Hall. When Smith-Barry died some years later, the family didn’t really want what they considered to be a mummy in a coffin! They arranged a burial, and moved the body to a nearby church. What they did not expect however, was the hauntings that would follow!

In the years (decades now!) that have followed, there have been reportings of sightings of a lady in a white veil, and well as tales of strange sounds and happenings. Whether you believe in ghost stories or not, she makes an interesting subject for a sculpture….

Simon’s Marbury Lady Sculpture

Simon decided to depict the Egyptian lady in his sculpture. However, always creative, he carved her as both a living person AND the ghost! He sculpted the face that faces the road to show the girl alive. Her face is smooth, her expression regal, and proud. The orchard view shows her eyes closed, hands clutching her chest, giving the story of her sad demise. Her face is also covered with fragments of veil which reflect the accounts of sightings of The Marbury Lady.
As well as depicting her in both life and death, Simon did this because he wanted to encourage people not just to view passively, but to physically engage with the sculpture. In carving her this way, people have to physically move round to the other side of the sculpture to see the full story.

The Living depiction of The Marbury Lady by Simon O'Rourke

 

The Marbury Lady, ghost side, Simon O'Rourke

The side depicting the ghostly Marbury Lady

A Test of Skill

Simon had been looking forward to this project ever since it was approved last year. She wasn’t without her challenges though. To begin with, their is the challenge of carving a standing stump, rather than a piece of timber in the workshop. With a piece of timber, it may be tricky to source another ‘perfect’ piece….but it can be done. With a standing stump that is being transformed, there is only one chance! No room for mistakes!

Behind the Veil

The other distinct challenge (and a first for Simon on a commission) was the veiling over the ghostly side. When painting or drawing, it is possible to draw the whole face, then ad the veil over the top. Even in sculpting with clay or similar, the veil is added. In the case of tree carving, Simon could only take away. That meant not only using technical skill and tool like the golden ratio to envision the correct proportions and expression, but being able to do so whilst also imagining where and how the veiling would fall, and taking into account having to leave that behind.

Tools of the Trade

As always, he cut as far down as he could with his larger Stihl chainsaws, before using manpatools angle grinder followed by the saburrtooth bits (especially the large flame bit) to finish the detail and texture. We’re sure you can imagine too, working at the top of all that scaffolding, the cordless saws with backpack for holding the battery pack (Stihl) were essential!

Looking at the finished sculpture though, you can see Simon rose to the challenges, and created something absolutely unique, relevant to the area, and enthralling for the viewer. Thank you to Filmage.co.uk for the video!

Here's the time lapse video of the Marbury Lady! Thanks to filmage.co.uk for the excellent editing!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Wednesday, 5 February 2020

We think this is one of Simon’s best examples of sculpting female form, and certainly stands alongside his Spirit of Ecstasy, Angel at the Pool of Bethesda and Viking Raid. Which are your favourite of Simon’s female sculptures? Why not comment below and let us know?!

And, as always, if you have a damaged tree that you would like to breathe new life into, email [email protected] to talk about some possibilities.

The Great Resc-yew (rescue): Two Towers and a Dragon

The Great Resc-yew (rescue): Two Towers and a Dragon 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Two Towers and a dragon.
Sorry, nothing to do with the movie! Although if you enjoy Tolkien, you could read our blog about Simon’s Lord of the Rings sculpture.
Rather these two towers and a dragon were straight from Simon’s imagination. As well as telling a story, they are actually also a happy ending in themselves! Read on to find out more about ‘the great resc-yew’…

Two towers and a dragon by Simon O'Rourke

The Resc-Yew Plan

These stunning sculptures began their life as yew trees (now the ‘rescue – rescyew puns make sense!) which had become problematic. Yew is a fascinating and beautiful wood which grows in all kinds of shapes and patterns. They are some of the oldest trees in the country, are great for making all kinds of things. This ranges from carving household objects and art to furniture. Most famously though, they have the reputation of making the best long bows! However, that wild beauty can sometimes cause problems for the landowners.
In this case, they were growing too close to the house.

Initially, the owners had the tops removed, but it turned out that wasn’t going to be a good long-term solution. Rather than remove them completely, they decided to turn them into a different kind of beautiful – a Simon O’Rourke sculpture! All projects have their points of fun and excitement, but one of the things Simon enjoys about this kind of commission is the sense of giving life and purpose back to something that had either died, was damaged, or could no longer remain as it was. Even better when it’s something as fun and unique as this fairytale sculpture!

Incidentally, if you have trees which are becoming problematic, read our blog about Treetech, a tree surgeon we work with and recommend to give you an evaluation!

The dragon from Two Towers and a Dragon by Simon O'Rourke

Creating the Sculptures

After chatting with the owners about what they would like, Simon went to work, employing not only his skill, but his creativity and imagination to create this scene from a story Tolkien or C S Lewis would be proud of!

Simon kept some of the bark to allow the trees to blend in more with the rest of the garden. This also adds age and authenticity to the towers, as if they are something from an long-ago, far away adventure. He created the initial shapes using Stihl chainsaws, then used his Manpa angle grinders and chainsaw bars, and Saburrtooth bits to create the details and added texture. The beautiful natural patterns within the yew combined with Simon’s deeper cuts that mark the stone and tiles, to create the feel of ancient stone towers that have been weathered over the years.

The Two Towers from Two towers and a dragon by simon o'rourke

Choose Your Own Adventure

One of the fun things about a sculpture like this, is it not only looks great, but sparks the imagination. This is something that is important to Simon in every sculpture he creates, and even shares in his biography that he wants “people to feel like they’ve experienced part of a story”

In this story, with the two towers and a dragon, the castle is under threat from the dragon. As we look at him, we see he is quietly watching, formulating his plan, and resting his wings, which although relaxed at this moment, are clearly powerful and large.

But what happens next?

Simon has set the scene and created a stunning piece of art, but the rest is up to you.
Can the towers withstand the attack?
Who or what is within them to attract the dragon?
Who will be victorious and how?

We think it would be wonderful to spend a summer’s evening in this garden – perhaps after a BBQ with a glass of your favourite drink in hand – inviting family and friends to tell the rest of the story. What do you think happens next? How would you end this great resc-yew story? Why not comment below and let us know!

As always, if you feel inspired by this week’s featured carving, you can talk to Simon about commissioning something unique for your home and garden. Contact us on [email protected].