commemorative

Our Lady of Pen Llyn

Our Lady of Pen Llyn 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Every commission has its own story, and some go back further than others. This week our blog is the story behind Our Lady of Pen Llyn. It is steeped in a rich history that spans generations and continents. Our thanks go to Father Huw Bryant of Bro Enlli who helped us understand the history and significance. He graciously supplied far more than we could include in this blog, and if it catches your attention, we recommend visiting their Facebook page to find out more, or visiting any of the links.

Early sketches of Our Lady of Pen Llyn by Simon O'Rourke

Early sketches of Our Lady of Pen Llyn

Our Lady of Pen Llyn (Mair Forwyn Y Mor) was commissioned by St Peter’s Church in Pwllheli as part of their redevelopment of the church as a site for pilgrimage. When people think of sacred sites in North Wales, they usually name Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlli). However, in centuries past, Pwllheli was also a significant site for pilgrimage. Three years ago the shrine was re-opened. Believers began to come once again to St Peter’s to spend time in quiet, prayer and contemplation.

Our Lady of Pen Llyn in progress in Simon O'Rourke's workshop

Our Lady of Pen Llyn in progress in Simon’s workshop

The idea for this sculpture began when one such visitor donated a relic believed to be a piece of the veil worn by Mary (the mother of Jesus) at the cross. The church began looking for a way of displaying the relic, to make it accessible to visitors. Writings of Hywel Rheinallt describe a statue of Mary in the area, believed to have been lost during the reformation. In wishing to reinstate that heritage, Fr Huw Bryant began to talk with Simon about a new statue.

Our Lady of Pen Llyn displayed at St Peter's Pwllheli

Our Lady of Pen Llyn displayed at St Peter’s Pwllheli

Obviously a figure like Mary has been depicted many times, and one of the challenges with being commissioned to create such a sculpture is where to start. What age should she be depicted as? What mood? Standing, sitting, kneeling?
Simon and Father Huw began their conversation around the original statue, and the ancient seal of Pwllheli which also depicted Mary. Although all images of both seem to have been lost, there are descriptions of a vision of Mary at Uwchmynydd (a holy well in the area). They have been depicted by local artist Su Walls, and these formed the basis for early conversation about the statue.

Our Lady of Pen Llyn displayed at St Peter's, Pwllheli

Our Lady of Pen Llyn displayed at St Peter’s, Pwllheli

Simon’s statue was unveiled last weekend, accompanied by a performance “The Protecting Veil” by Sir John Tavener. The piece is a journey with Mary through Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection in music, and provided a beautiful backdrop of sound for viewing the sculpture.

In keeping with a tradition of religious statues going on tour, Our Lady of Pen Llyn is currently rotating round churches in the area (view dates HERE). She will return to St Peter’s on 15th August and will stay in the shrine area of the church where the relic is already on display. It is hoped she will be part of the devotional life of the shrine, another way of helping people enter the story of faith.

Close up view of Our Lady of Pen Llyn at St Peter's, Pwllheli

Close up view of Our Lady of Pen Llyn at St Peter’s, Pwllheli

Father Huw Bryant has said of the sculpture:

“It’s great to be able to have something that is both ancient and new, something to replace the medieval statue which is part of our cultural heritage that had been lost but made new for a new generation of Christians. What could symbolise such a fresh and new approach to an ancient practice than to carve it with a chainsaw!

It is a privilege over the last 3 years to see a shrine re-born and begin to bear fruit and this statue is the next step in the life of the Shrine being re-established for generations to come. Given that the Image of Our Lady of Walsingham has been used by Christian’s to guide them to Christ for over 950 years, it’s humbling to think Simon’s carving may be helping people find their way to God for hundreds of years to come.”
Indeed, it’s humbling for us think of the people who will view this and be impacted over the decades and maybe centuries to come!
Close up of the face of Our Lady of Pen Llyn by Simon O'Rourke

Close up of the face of Our Lady of Pen Llyn

St Peter’s Church and Shrine are open Tuesday – Sunday for pilgrims to visit, and there is a shrine mass every Saturday at 10am.

If groups are interested in coming and would like services and devotions laid on, you can message them via their Facebook page or calling 01758 614693.

As always, Simon is available to talk about similar commissions at [email protected]

Carved Day’s Night: Global Beatles Day

Carved Day’s Night: Global Beatles Day 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

June 25th was Global Beatles Day. Yes, there is such a thing! It was created to honour and celebrate the ideals of The Beatles, and we couldn’t let it pass without a flashback to Simon’s Beatles carvings – our own tribute to the legendary musicians.

Simon carving The Beatles

Work in progress!

The Beatles were carved over four days in Liverpool in August 2017. It was part of an event at the pier head, so locals were able to watch Simon at work. Needless to say, they loved seeing their very own ‘fab four’ coming to life!


Each figure was carved out of its own piece of timber and took around six hours. From facial details to posture, each one is a great representation, and reflects Simon’s talent for human form. The ‘Fab Four’ were auctioned off in aid of Variety charity, and ended up raising over £15,000!

Simon with the finished band!

Since then Simon has recreated lots of figures from the airman at Highclere Castle to other Liverpudlians like Cilla Black and Ken Dodd. You can see some of his human form portfolio here.

If there are events, anniversaries etc that you would like marked with your own sculpture, get in touch with us at [email protected] to find out more.

International Pet Day

International Pet Day 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

11th April was International Pet Day and as a bunch of animal lovers, we loved seeing all the photos of pets that appeared online. Sometimes though a photo of our furry family member is just not enough. Over the years we have had a few people commission sculptures and illustrations of their beloved pet, so we thought that in honour of International Pet Day, we’d use this blog to share with you some of Simon’s ‘Pet Portraits’

Our first is ‘Cheila’, a German Shepherd completed around this time last year.

Cheila, the German Shepherd: a pet portrait by Simon O'Rourke

Cheila, the German Shepherd: a pet portrait by Simon O’Rourke

After purchasing Simon’s ‘Lion Cub’ sculpture at a Born Free charity dinner around 18 months ago (a charity very close to our heart due to our involvement with the ‘Pawtraits’ book and exhibition a few years ago which featured Virginia McKenna), our clients – Steven and Leslie Smith – decided that they would like to commission Simon to produce a life size sculpture of their beloved dog, Cheila, to immortalise her in wood.

Simon spent time measuring Cheila and photographing her here at the workshop when Steven and Leslie came to visit, to make sure that the sculpture was absolutely accurate and then drew a number of sketches of her in the pose that Steven had requested in order to best capture all of her wonderful features, characteristics and quirks that make her, ‘Cheila’.

Needless to say that they were absolutely thrilled with the finished piece and wrote us a fantastic testimonial to back that up which you can find here.

Dachshund Bust by Simon O’Rourke

Our most recent Pet Portrait was the bust of a dachshund, photographed above. People often ask us about the process and are fascinated watching Simon in action, so last week he got out his Olfi Action Camera, so you can see him at work!

I finished a bust of a #Weimaraner dog yesterday! Here's some action footage shot on an Olfi action camera!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Saturday, 20 April 2019

 

Of course, not everybody has room for a sculpture of their pet, and as the saying goes, ‘We have an app for that’!!! Well, not really an app, but a solution! Other clients over the years have opted to take advantage of Simon’s illustration training, and commissioned instead, a portrait on flat wooden ‘panels’.

Scruffy: Pet Potratit by Simon O’Rourke

Staffordshire Bull Terrier by Simon O’Rourke

If you are interested in having a Pet Portrait, whether sculpture or illustration, please get in touch with us at [email protected]
Simon is able to work from photos or in-person ‘sittings’ and we’d love to talk with you about your vision.
Although this blog has focused on ‘man’s best friend’, Simon loves the challenge of sculpting animals and is happy to talk with you about any pet.  To see more of his animal and wildlife work, just visit his portfolio on the new website.

We leave you this week with some examples of other pets; Debbie the cat and Dan the horse!
And of course, no International Pet Day Blog would be complete without our own O’Rourke pet and Tree Carving mascot, Poppy – photographed here ready for a day of work and, -just like Simon –  wearing her Stihl clothing!

 

Debbie the Cat: Pet Portrait by Simon O'Rourke

Debbie the Cat: Pet Portrait by Simon O’Rourke

Dan the Shire Horse: Pet Portrait by Simon O'Rourke

Dan the Shire Horse: Pet Portrait by Simon O’Rourke

Poppy, our family pet and Tree Carving 'mascot'

Poppy, our family pet and Tree Carving ‘mascot’ wearing her Stihl gear!

Spring it On!!!!

Spring it On!!!! 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Well, it was the first day of Spring this week and that means our thoughts (or at least the shop displays, even if we haven’t quite caught up!) turn to longer days, birds singing, sun shining, walks in the park, nature bursting into new life, and all the cute and fluffy newborn animals! People in the streets seem more smiley as the weather warms, and even those wet, rainy days seem better as the newly budded blossom on the trees and the touch of colour of daffodils and tulips springing from the ground remind us of the hope of new life that comes after a Winter – whether literally or metaphorically.

To mark the shift in season, we’re bringing you some ‘Spring themed’ carvings this week as well as (hopefully) some inspiration for your own gardens!

Featured above are some ‘animal family’ or ‘new life’ carvings Simon has completed in the past. It’s definitely not an easy thing to make something that is so small and detailed in real life into something this size whilst keeping it realistic (like the sheep). Shape alone doesn’t work unless the desired result is something very modern and stylised, so what we see here – especially in the birds – represents a lot of time spent on detail and texture.

As well as the change in weather, we’ve noticed the supermarket aisles filling up with chocolate (anyone else looking forward to April 22nd when it all goes on sale???!!!) which means we also can’t help but think of Easter, and the ‘bringer’ of all that sugary goodness – the Easter Bunny! As carving in a material like wood lends itself beautifully to garden ornaments, woodland trails etc, it’s no surprise that Simon is no stranger to our leporine friends, whether real or imagined…..

Our teams are also no strangers to the garden ‘Spring Clean’, and if you’re anything like us, are only just starting the real work of cleaning up the garden after winter, and beginning the preparation work that will pay off in summer when it’s all organised and in bloom, or in Autumn when you reap the harvest.

If you find storm damaged trees or pieces of timber in your garden as part of your clean up, or after cleaning up, find yourself with some spots that somehow don’t seem complete, why not consider commissioning something unique from us?
Whether a loved pet, favourite animal, creating your own whimsical fairy garden or adding something with a touch of humour, we’re sure Simon can create something that will be the perfect completion to your garden Spring Clean up.

We hope that whatever the start of Spring has looked like for you, that it’s one that, just like the season, is full of new life and hope.
As always, if something has caught your attention and you’d like to commission something, contact us on [email protected]

Imagine Carving Dragons

Imagine Carving Dragons 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

It isn’t everyday you hear someone saying they count working with dragons among their job description! But that’s exactly what we get to say when people ask! Maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised as we are based in North Wales – a land where recorded legends about dragons date back to the 7th century, and they have long been used as a symbol of national identity.

Y Ddraig Derw, Bethesda

 

Earlier this year Simon carved “Y Ddraig Derw“, or “The Dragon of Bethesda” (above) and we have continued to be overwhelmed by the number of appreciative messages and amazing photos that are coming in from those of you who have stopped by to see it. Y Ddraig Derw was far from our first dragon carving though, and talking dragons for a couple of weeks triggered some fun for us reminiscing about other dragon carves in the past. Scroll on to join our trip down memory lane!

Prize-winning Hemlock the Dragon on display at Wrexham Museum

 

Carving dragons represents some great challenges and a lot of fun. Nobody REALLY knows what a dragon looks like, so although we have a pretty set idea, there is still a lot of imagination Simon gets to employ in deciding the scale, proportions, shape and details – more so than when carving an animal we all know such as his owls, horses, labradors, eagles etc where although there is variety, there is still a very definite and specific anatomical structure to be represented.

Ever wanted to BE a dragon? This carve of dragon wings in Japan was intended for just that reason! The ultimate selfie/photo prop!

 

Dragons also mean portraying a contrast between the great size and strength of their bodies, wings and snouts with minute details such as teeth, a tongue, individual scales, and even the texture of those scales.

Welsh dragon carve in process

There’s also the wings to consider. If they are to be outstretched and carved from wood, there is an engineering challenge to be able to scale them in a way the dragon won’t overbalance as well as how best to attach them securely, especially if the dragon will be out in the elements and at the mercy of the wind and rain. Or, if using other material as we did with Hemlock, what will best represent the density and texture of the animal whilst also fitting in with the style of carving and colouring and texture the timber will take on?

Carving a dragon image into a storm-damaged tree

 

And then there’s the story. Dragons appear in many contexts from national legends to epic movies like The Hobbit or Harry Potter through to the cute and humorous beasts we find in family stories like Pete’s Dragon and How to Train Your Dragon. Which of these is the finished carve to represent? And how is that done? A glint in an eye? The shape of an open mouth? The angle of the head? So much possibility!

Crouching Dragon from a few years ago

 

Dragons also have so many different details and aspects that are unique to them, that it can be fascinating to incorporate them into something else (like this arch below), and for it still to be distinctly ‘dragon’. Maybe it’s a bench, or an arch, or a box, or a walking stick, but whatever the commission, a dragon will always create a technical and aesthetic challenge, which, like the dragon in flight, we are more than happy to rise to! Indeed, “Watch this space” for more dragons later this year!

Dragon mouth archway

We hope you’ve enjoyed seeing some of our favourite dragon carves from the last few years. Which is your favourite?

As well as accepting commissions, Hemlock the Dragon is available for hire for weddings, parties, events etc. Please email us at [email protected] for information

 

It Takes a (Lego) Village

It Takes a (Lego) Village 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

What could the well-known proverb in the title and Lego possibly have to do with tree carving?!

Well, it’s our privilege and joy both as a company and in our personal lives to be able to share what we have, and use it to help, support, sow into, and encourage others – whether that be with time, energy, or finances. In the past Simon has auctioned off various carvings and the gift of bespoke carving to order for a range of charities including local hospices and national charities. This week we were excited to pop over to England and plant a Lego tree which represented our donation to The Big Lego Brick Hospital fundraiser for a new Clatterbridge Cancer Centre. Read on for the full story……!!!

Planting our Lego tree on the model Clatterbridge

 

A chance encounter last year led to us running a  fundraiser for Clatterbridge Hospital from our workshop in North Wales. They are building a new Cancer Centre in Liverpool, and have been running a scheme where people can sponsor things like bricks, flower beds, benches and even figures of staff, to help build a model hospital out of Lego, which is a copy of the actual hospital which is currently under construction.
With half a million bricks and an army of builders, the Lego hospital itself is something worth checking out! When it’s finished it’ll be just under three metres long and almost two metres high. It will taken around 1000 hours over two years to build, and will hopefully have raised £500,000 for the Clatterbridge charity by the time it is completed. If you look closely you will find over 100 rooms with chemotherapy clinics, radiotherapy machines, toilet blocks, kitchens, lift shafts, MRI scanners, and more, including 150 hospital beds! As an artist, and a team that loves creativity and ingenuity, we can’t help but be impressed! OK, and let’s be honest, aside from the artistry and engineering, nobody ever really outgrows their appreciation of all things Lego!

Comparison of the lego construction with the current build as of 17/01/19

 

Our fundraiser itself was held just before Christmas, and we opened the doors of our workshop and welcomed people for mince pies, cake, tea and coffee. They had the opportunity to wander round the workshop and see works in progress as well as completed pieces, and even got to have their photo taken with a dragon! With donations and the raffle, we raised around £250, which enabled us to buy a tree in the model hospital.

One of our youngest visitors exploring the workshop – photographed with Groot and Hemlock the Dragon

 

Jo, one of our team at the fundraiser where she was able to share about the great care she has received from Clatterbridge staff with some of the other guests

 

It’s always a privilege to be able to contribute and invest in something which will play such a vital part in the lives of others. This fundraiser took on more meaning for us though, when we realised that one of our team (Jo) here at Simon O’Rourke Tree Carving has often been taken care of on a Clatterbridge ward! And so, it was an even greater privilege to be able to go this week and plant our tree, knowing that we are investing in something that not only benefits and serves the wider community, but directly impacts and helps one of our own team and friends.

Jo pictured with two of the nurses who have helped look after her recently – thanks to Leanne and Aysha who are not only awesome nurses, but were still willing to take a photo for their patient at the end of a shift!

A huge thank you to those who came and visited the workshop and donated to the fundraiser. Every little helps, and whether it be investing to get a facility built, or walking alongside those who will need to use this hospital, it really does ‘take a village’, and we are thankful for ours!

Heroes at Highclere

Heroes at Highclere 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

We’re sure you can’t have missed that this week was the anniversary of 9/11. Certainly my social media feeds were full of people paying tribute to all the servicemen and law enforcement (human and canine!) who had willingly sacrificed their wellbeing, and even lives, to try and save others.

 

Whilst it is always sad to remember, it is also a beautiful thing to pay respect and honour, and here at Simon O’Rourke Tree Carving, we were honoured to pay tribute ourselves last weekend to another group of servicemen.

For readers outside the UK who may not have had the same media exposure, September 1918 marked the beginning of the end of the First World War, culminating in the Armistice two months later. In this centenary year, we have already had many events, appeals, fly bys and exhibitions happening all around the country to honour the men and women who have selflessly served our nation, and this event we were just at was just one fantastic example.

 

The Earl and Countess of Carnarvon of Highclere Castle (many of you will recognise it as ‘Downton Abbey’), chose to open their grounds for “Heroes at Highclere”: a charity weekend, honouring  those who have served and fundraising for charities related to our armed forces. Part of this weekend was the unveiling of an airman sculpture Simon was commissioned to create for this event, and we were invited to be there for the event.

It was an honour to be there in person at Highclere during the event, and as well as getting to unveil the sculpture, we were also able to take time to enjoy the exhibitions, planes, food, good weather and wonderful atmosphere as well as meet and talk with the families of those brave soldiers who lost their lives when their planes came down on and around the Highclere estate during World War 2. What a privilege too, to have been the one commissioned to create this piece honouring so many brave men and women who served during the world wars and in those 100 years that have followed – even more so, that it is housed in such a beautiful and iconic setting as the Highclere Estate!!

As well as the airman sculpture, Daniel, our carpenter and workshop manager, did a beautiful job of creating 3 benches based on the tail plane of a P38 aircraft; one of the types of aircraft that crash landed on the Highclere estate during World War two.

He thoughtfully designed the benches in a way that he could incorporate some pieces of shrapnel from the plane by using clear acrylic tubing for the legs, but sadly there was not any suitable shrapnel from this plane available at the time and so he used small pieces of shrapnel from the B17 aircraft that had also crashed there instead.

This actually ended up being the perfect combination as not only did it include more of the planes that had crashed on the estate in the design, but, on the day of the remembrance service and sculpture unveiling we actually met the family of the pilot of the B17 who had sadly died in the crash. We were so humbled and honoured to meet them and they absolutely loved the benches.

 

As well as the joy of seeing the completed pieces in their new home, and the fun of being able to take part in the heroes weekend, participating in this way also leaves us humbled and thankful for the men, women and animals in our armed forces and law enforcement. We hope that others who visit the castle and see our Airman and benches, will not only enjoy the artistry, but also take a moment to pause and reflect on their significance…

 

For those who would like to see the airman in situ, he will be on the lawns overlooking ‘Heaven’s Gate’ at the back of Highclere Castle for the foreseeable future. (Admission charges apply, please see the Highclere website for details)

 

November gets going with a bang!!!

November gets going with a bang!!! 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Well, what a month so far and we are only 2 weeks in!

The month started with Simon and Dan finishing off the Oak Plinth that Dan made and Simon engraved, for the Senydd in Cardiff….

….Now that it’s actually there and installed and it’s had it’s big reveal we can actually talk about it publicly! 🙂

Basically, we were asked as a company to create a wooden plinth for a beautiful chair that was generously being donated by some students in Flanders, Belguim, as a gift to the Senydd, to celebrate the life of, Hedd Wyn, a Welsh-language poet who was killed on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele during World War I. He was posthumously awarded the bard’s chair at the 1917 National Eisteddfod, and it was felt fitting to make a chair from Oak found at the site where he fell 100 years ago.

The plinth was being made made from some Oak sleepers, found in the grounds of Hedd Wyn’s historical family home in Trawsfynydd, North West Wales, and we were honoured to be approached by the National Trust to make the plinth for the chair to sit on at the Senydd.

Needless to say all went well and Dan and Simon did a wonderful job.

Here is a picture of Dan enjoying the unveiling of the chair and plinth at the Senydd last week.

The other very exciting thing for November so far has been the wonderful Story trail that Simon has written and created for a community group in Ellesmere Port.

The story for the trail was written by Simon a couple of months ago, and once approved by the group, made into a stunning wooden trail that you can follow around the woodland.

The grand unveiling for the trail is on Saturday 25th November in the afternoon and people are very welcome to attend and to even lend a hand with tree planting if they so wish!

Please contact Andy, the group co-ordinator on the Facebook page below for more details.

https://www.facebook.com/meadow.park.942

That’s all for now, but details of where you can see Simon carving over the next few weeks up until Christmas are available here:

https://www.treecarving.co.uk/public-carving-dates-november-and-december-2017/

Have a fab few weeks everybody and we’ll be back soon with some Ho Ho Ho! 🙂

ONLY 40 SLEEPS TO GO!!! So get those Christmas orders in quick! 🙂

Simon, Liz, Dan and team at Simon O’Rourke Ltd.

Summer events!!

Summer events!! 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

It’s going to be a very busy summer for us, involving the Beatles, dragons, nature sculpture and more!

Here’s the definitive list…

Artist residency at Erddig: July 11th and 12th August dates tbc…

The Rhug Country Fair: July 8th and 9th

Sculpture and outdoor furniture featured in two Tatton RHS gardens: July 19th – 23rd

Woodfest Country Show: July 29th and 30th

Junk sculpture and Nature sculpture workshops at Chester Cathedral: Every Friday in August

Creating a 3 metre sculpture at Chester Cathedral: every Saturday in August

Creating the Beatles at Pier Head Village in Liverpool: 12pm – 6pm, August 6th, August 13th, August 27th, August 28th

Hemlock the Dragon, appearing at the Denbigh Show: August 17th

Landscape 2017 in Battersea: September 19th and 20th

Halloween trail at Erddig National Trust: October

Pumpkin Carving Workshops at Hamper Food Festival Llangollen: October 14th and 15th