north wales

Radagast the Brown, (Blue and Pink).

Radagast the Brown, (Blue and Pink). 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Isn’t he amazing?!

Radagast the Brown by Simon O'Rourke

 

Simon recently worked on this sculpture of Radagast the Brown from Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’.

We think he makes a striking figure rising up among the shrubbery. We love the detail too like his wise, all-seeing eyes and wild beard. It’s so easy to imagine birds nesting in it, as the story goes. The bird on his head and the bottle of medicine are perfect references to the series. Radagast is known to communicate with ‘beasts and birds’, so it is especially appropriate that this sculpture is found outdoors.

Radagast the Brown by Simon O'Rourke

 

 

Why the decision to have a wizard in this otherwise typical garden?

Sadly, it came about because of disease in the tree: a blue atlas cedar.

The fungus responsible is sirococcus, and its incidence has gradually been increasing throughout the UK since 2016. It’s thought that it spreads through rain splash, strong winds, and possibly seed transmission, and there is unfortunately no known cure. Damaged trees must be cut back. Although it will sometimes kill younger trees, the RHS reports mature trees can live for many years.

If you are the owner of a Blue Atlas Cedar, there are a couple of signs to watch out for. The main one is pink needles. This is a sign of death, and they will later turn brown and drop off. The tree may also get cankers, gum bleeds, and grow fruiting bodies on the dead leaves. Click HERE to find out more and see images of things to look out for. Forest Research have also published a helpful article HERE.

Sirococcus-conigenus-on-cedar-of-Lebanon-

Example of the typical pink needles of an infected tree.

Government bodies are also trying to track the spread.

That means it’s important to report it, if you see a tree you think may be infected. The link and everything you need to know to make a report can be found HERE. Reporting is so important, so we ask you to PLEASE consider doing your part.

Radagast the Brown by Simon O'Rourke

All is not lost though if  your own tree is infected!

Simon is on hand to transform it and give it new life. Whether a fantasy sculpture like this, or something more ‘natural’ like THESE are your thing, Simon is able to create something beautiful for your garden.

Email  [email protected] to find out how he can help you.

 

Viewing Our Lady of Pen Llyn

Viewing Our Lady of Pen Llyn 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

One of the beautiful things about art, is that while the artist may have a vision or message, it speaks to people in different ways as they view. Our recent sculpture Our Lady of Penn Llyn is no different, so we wanted to share some thoughts others have had, and invite you to comment too.

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

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

 

One viewer has commented on the serenity of her expression, and a kind of wisdom and depth in her eyes.
Father Huw Bryant (the man behind the redevelopment project that led to the commission) has shared some of his thoughts in the statue description found at the church:

“One of the main features of the statue is Mary’s open handed pose. The Open Hand Image represents a hand open to give, as well as open to receive. Mary gave herself fully to the will of God, and she received the Holy Spirit. She gave the world her Son on the cross and she received the consolation of Joy in the resurrection. She lived with those hands open, open in trust, open in faith. Something we can emulate, to live with open hands, to not only give, but to receive as well. Out of living with open hands comes fresh new growth.  Living with open hands is an expression of an open mind, open heart, and open will.  Not only does living with open hands bring forth beauty but it is also the source of the passion of compassion. The flames of love are not stifled but are fanned into all-consuming, all-embracing, all-inclusive, unconditional love.”

Here her open hands are more visible

He adds:

Another feature worth contemplating is the plinth which is carved from Welsh Oak. It is designed to represent a fountain on which Mary sits. This is a representation of the Holy Well on Uwchmynydd and links to the vision of her, unique to that place. The fountain is that fountain of grace which Mary unlocks for us through her Yes to God as she bares our Christ into the world. A fountain, like that well on Uwchmynydd which is open for us today, for all to drink from it’s pure waters and thirst no more.”

Close up of the plinth mentioned by Father Huw

Of course, photos often don’t do justice to a piece of art. For those who would like a better visual, but can’t see the statue during her tour, our friends at Public-Art UK have created this fantastic 3D image for you to see.

We’d love to hear your thoughts about our sculpture, and what aspects speak most to you. Why not leave us a comment below?

 

 

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]

A Throne Fit for a King Officer

A Throne Fit for a King Officer 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Sometimes you don’t need an excuse like an anniversary to install a piece of art.
From time to time, you just have to see something you admire and think ‘I’d like one of those’ – and that’s kind of what happened with this week’s featured sculpture: The dragon throne!

Close up of the RAF Valley Dragon by Simon O'Rourke

The story of this sculpture actually began back in February, not long after Simon revealed The Dragon of Bethesda . Squadron Leader Leah Richmond at RAF Valley ( a Royal Air Force base on Anglesey in North Wales) saw the dragon, had a space on the base that needed ‘something’, and contacted Simon about getting their very own dragon! Or at least, that’s the quick summary! Simon got to work on this rather dignified looking beast in the Spring, and it was unveiled this week during the annual base reception and sunset parade.

RAF Valley Dragon Throne by Simon O'Rourke in progress

Early work on the dragon throne

RAF Valley provides fast-jet training as well as training for aircrew working with search and rescue. It became known in the UK when Prince William was stationed there 2010-2013, but was known long before that to the North Welsh population. Many a holiday-goer in Snowdonia has been treated to the sight (and sound!!!) of a low flying Hawk!

The dragon was a meaningful choice for this base, as not only is the dragon on the national flag of Wales, but it is also on the RAF Valley emblem. This side by side shows how Simon has taken the very simplistic image from the badge, and re-imagined how that would translate into a real animal. The dragon’s expression and more rugged texturing (rather than smooth, even scales) really enhance the sense of a rugged,  aged guardian.

Comparison of RAF Valley Dragon with Simon O'Rourke's Sculpture

Comparison of the dragons

Making the dragon took six days of work, from the initial hollowing out of the oak that is the main frame for the thone, to completing the fine detail. The shape of the wings which provide the back and sides of the throne, remain faithful to the dragon on the badge, and the overall scale provides a fittingly regal overall impression. Truly a throne fit for an officer!

As the oak ages, it will take on a much darker colour and warmer tones. It will contrast beautifully with the seat which is made from Cedar of Lebanon. The cedar will also darken in time, but take on grey hues – coincidentally reminiscent of the RAF uniforms!

As always, Simon used his faithful Stihl chainsaws to create the throne. For those who are interested in this side of what Simon does, check out the MS 500i and the MSA 200 which were both used for this sculpture. Both have been great additions to his collection of tools. The MS500i is great for its power, lightweight design and how easy it is to operate when there is heavy duty ‘chopping’, hollowing and shaping to do! The MSA 200 gives Simon the usual Stihl functionality as well as all the benefits of using a battery operated saw – and is quiet enough to use on site in residential or public areas.

Completed Dragon Throne by Simon O'Rourke

The finished throne!

The throne was unveiled at the annual base reception and was admired by the staff, local dignitaries and other attendees who saw it.

Simon O'Rourke with RAF Valley Station Commander Chris Jones and the completed dragon throne

Simon O’Rourke with RAF Valley Station Commander Chris Jones and the completed dragon throne

 

Liz O'Rourke with Sqn Ldr Leah Richmond who envisioned and initiated the throne

Liz O’Rourke with Sqn Ldr Leah Richmond who envisioned and initiated the throne

This sculpture began life when somebody saw and admired another of Simon’s pieces. Which carvings have you seen and thought ‘I want one of those’? Drop us a comment below!
Even better, why not email [email protected] and have a chat about how you could have your own?

Three Wise Dragons

Three Wise Dragons 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Well, we promised you a year of dragons, and we don’t like to disappoint!

This past week has featured more of Simon’s dragons being installed in Hafan Y Mor Holiday Park in Pwllheli. They are part of the new Dragon Lakes Adventure Village which opens later this month. They will eventually be surround by astro turf and other parts of the development, so don’t worry if they look a little out of place at the moment – their ‘home’ is still being built around them, and in a few weeks they will be the perfect addition to a holiday selfie!

 

The Three Wise Dragons at Dragon Lakes Adventure Village, Hafan-y-Mor, Pwllheli

The Three Wise Dragons at Dragon Lakes Adventure Village, Hafan-y-Mor, Pwllheli

 

As well as the sleeping dragon bench, we have three lovable dragons: ‘ Hear No Evil’, ‘See No Evil’ and ‘Speak No Evil’ – a Welsh twist on the traditional Japanese monkeys, we’re sure are more familiar to you than these characters! Although the saying itself can be traced back to the 2nd or 3rd century, it was actually a 17th century wooden carving of the monkeys that launched the characters into the renown they have today, so it seems fitting not only to have a dragon version for Wales, but to continue that tradition of carving them in wood.

 

Hear No Evil – Clywed Dim Drwg

 

See No Evil – Gweld Dim Drwg

 

Speak No Evil – Dweud Dim Drwg

 

Sleeping Dragon Bench

 

‘Hafan Y Mor’ can be translated as either ‘sea haven’ which makes it an appropriate name for this spot in Pwllheli – a Llyn Peninsula market town which has won several awards for its beaches an marina. If you happen to be enjoying the area, why not tag us in a photo of yourself with our Three Wise Dragons, and let us know which one is your favourite?

Maes Y Pant Fort

Maes Y Pant Fort 700 400 Simon O'Rourke
Although most of our carving is done by Simon O’Rourke, we have affiliates who work with us on certain projects that we can also recommend if Simon is not available for a commission. This week our blog features one of those projects: The Maes Y Pant fort.

The fort at Maes Y Pant, Marford*

Maes Y Pant is a former quarry, which is now a forested area run by local communities, local to us here in North Wales. It features woodland trails and a children’s play area, and is of particular interest to conservationists because of the unusual Bee Orchid which can be found there.  Our work is found in a few different places, and visitors are actually greeted at the entrance to the park by ‘Stanley’ – a previous carve of Simon’s. Whilst it’s a privilege to be able to travel and see our work in places around the world, there is also something special about a local project that enables us more easily to see people enjoying it over the years.

Stanley greets guests at the entrance ***

The brief for this project was to construct a play area and fort within a palisade for families to use, which would also reflect and portray the wildlife on the site. The bulk of the job was completed by our affiliates Nathan Woods and Daniel Barnes over nine days in Spring 2017 , and was constructed using part of the commercial softwood crop that helps fund the site.  Not only did this provide an affordable and easy-to-access source of timber, it also ensured that the build is totally sympathetic to the surrounding environment.

Welcome sign by Nathan Woods at the Maes Y Pant fort*

This then left Nathan with one day for detailing – the sign, carved weaponry, and the dragons on the see-saw. After all, what’s a fortress without some weapons?! These are all historical weapons such as bows and arrows and swords, which is in keeping with the historic aesthetic of a fort, and not only looks great, but helps encourage and inspire imaginative play in the children using the area.
In asking him about the project, Nathan reflected that “Thankfully the weather was unusually kind for the time of year and the work, whilst being ‘intensive’ went according to plan” – something that is never guaranteed carving at this time of year, and that we are ALWAYS thankful for when it happens!

Nathan’s weaponry detailing on individual posts in the fort*

The second phase was completed in January of this year, when Nathan returned for two days to complete this wonderful bee totem pole, and welcoming ladybird seat –  further reflecting the local wildlife, and creating a rest space for families to pause and enjoy the environment or watch their children play.

Bee totem pole and ladybird bench*

If you happen to be in the area, why not tag us in your photos? It’s lovely when a project is both beautiful and functional, for us to be able to see it being used and enjoyed.

Local boys enjoying the fort this summer**

 

Nathan is a hugely experienced tree carver, and has worked for/with us for just over 10 years, over many different projects ranging from when we were just a tent in a frozen field to the current set-up! He can  currently only be commissioned for work through Tree Carving.
Daniel is a gifted carpenter and has worked with us for four-and-a-half years. He specialises in high quality, bespoke work and especially enjoys making and installing kitchens and doors, and creating furniture in its organic form. He can also currently be contacted through Tree Carving.
* Photo credit Nathan Woods
** Photo credit Yvonne Ankers
*** Photo taken from Maes Y Pant website

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

 

Y Ddraig Derw: An Adventure Worth Telling

Y Ddraig Derw: An Adventure Worth Telling 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

IT SIMPLY ISN’T AN ADVENTURE WORTH TELLING IF THERE AREN’T ANY DRAGONS

A quick internet search shows nobody really knows who said this any more (it was attributed to J R R Tolkien for a long time), but it seems it still holds true that there is just something about a dragon story which captures imagination, and keeps being retold – especially here in Wales, where dragons have been linked with the identity of the nation since the 7th century!

Having shared already that the year has a bit of ‘dragon’ theme for us, last week saw us working on a dragon sculpture which was carved on location in beautiful North Wales: ‘Y Ddraig Derw‘ (The Oak Dragon).
Even in process, our latest dragon captured the attention and hearts of people who saw it in person and online, and since then we have been overwhelmed by the positive messages we’ve received, the volume of shares online, and the number of people choosing to re-tell the story of this carving. Even the Daily Post  and BBC reported our story! We’re grateful and humbled by it all, but also delighted so many of you have already been able to enjoy our Dragon of Bethesda.

THE COMMISSION

Several years ago, a 200 year old oak split, and half that fell was lying across a rock.  Sometimes in carving, we find the tree and sometimes the tree finds us! In this case it was the latter. The type of tree, the length, positioning and its 30″ diameter meant this was a piece of timber begging to be carved! The commission itself came from the owner of the arboretum close to Bangor, Dr Alofs.

 

 

THE CARVE

Y Ddraig Derw took six days to complete, making the most of the hours of daylight that we had. It was carved entirely on-site which also meant a good work out, as we had decided to create a ‘full dragon’, which meant carrying pieces up to use for the wings and legs! With wood that large and heavy, the process of incorporating them into the sculpture isn’t easy, but with patience and team work, we got there! The first few days focused on the head and then the shape and movement in the body, with the last two focused on texture and details. For those who would like to see more of the process, we uploaded video like this one during the week on our Facebook page.

THE FINISHED PIECE

The finished sculpture is about 25′ long, and overlooks the road. With its craning head and open mouth, it looks like a guard dragon, roaring over those who would seek to enter its territory! Although it is on private land, there are a few public footpaths nearby for viewing, and it is visible from the southbound A5 between the first and second exits.

VISTING THE DRAGON

Although Y Ddraig Derw is visible from the road, it’s in a bit of a tricky spot to stop for photos. We’d love for you to see him in person, but encourage you all to do it safely please! For exact location and tips for parking, please visit THIS POST on our Facebook page (it’s public, so you don’t need Facebook to see it).

Thank you once again for all the kind words and encouragement, and to those of you who have also shared photos – it’s always great to hear from you, and to see you enjoying our pieces.

PS For those of you who can’t get to this dragon, why not have one of our dragons come to you? Hemlock the Dragon is available for hire for shows, weddings, parties etc, and is always a big hit!

 

Photos of Y Ddraig Derw at night are taken by local photographer Derfel Owen and used with permission