Friday, 30 April 2010

Devil's Toe Nail

A few years ago, a customer said that she wanted a stone bowl for her garden, and I held out a fossil shell called a 'Devil's Toe Nail' - about 3 inches long - and I said, "How about this, in Portland stone, about 3 feet long?" She asked what it would look like, and I pointed to the fossil which was still in my hand. "It will look exactly like this", I said. And so it did.

The original piece of stone weighed not far short of a quarter of a ton, but when I finished the sculpture, I could (just) pick it up myself. I am a beefy sort of chap.

Suffice it to say that this carving is an example of what I mean by 'not leaving your mark', and - in contrast to to the shell sculptures made by Peter Randall-Page (no slight intended) - it is a very good example of how not to leave your mark, when modeling from nature. The thing itself is enough, it needs no embellishment.

So this post is an advert for anyone who might want something similar. Not so much blowing my own trumpet, rather giving credit where credit is due - to whatever created the 80 million year old bi-valve in the first place.

Free estimates given, no job too large or too small, etc. etc.


  1. That's ever so impressive. And that's not just blog-commenting niceness - it's lovely, careful, graceful and a work of art.

  2. Why thank you Mise, but - like I say - it's a simple copy. All we need.

  3. It's very feminine. And just by looking at the picture, I would have said it was a real shell. Nice job, you beautiful sculptor you.

  4. A great bit of work, Tom. The stone you used looks perfect for the job. It seems to have a built-in translucence. Congratulations.

  5. Thanks for those kind comments. There is a river bank near here where those fossils just fall out of the sides of the earth, and they're all different. Strange, because there probably was never a river there when they were alive, all those millions of years ago. The stone (Portland) is what most of London was built from after the fire of 1666, and is nice and hard. It's also the same as Queen Victoria is made from in my previous post. The carving rings like a bell when struck. I tinted the outer surface (top photo) to accentuate the growth ridges, which is why the inner looks pearly or translucent - a happy accident.

    I suppose this is the difference between 'Fine Art' sculpture and the sort of jobbing stuff that I sometimes do. It's a lot less personal, and all the work is done for you before you start. No need for a maquette, no scope for 'interpretation' - just a lot of effort. I wish it was always like that, then there wouldn't be so much ugly sculpture around, cluttering civic spaces.

  6. P.S. - I under-quoted the age of the fossil as 15 million years, but I think it is closer to 80 million years, a little younger than the Jurassic stone it is carved in.

    A museum curator here shows people a similar object, and says that it is 80,000,017 years old. When asked how he can be so precise, he says that when he first arrived, 17 years ago, he was told that it was 80 million years old...

  7. Thanks Maiden. I was invited over to Australia to teach Ozzies how to carve stone about 30 years ago, but didn't want to do it despite the huge amount of money offered. Now you have to BEG the Australian authorities to let you in, so I guess that there are enough masons there to be going on with for the time being.

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