Riding on the back of the last post about that bit of stone furniture, I want to do a bit of thinking out loud about what makes the difference between one approach to an ordinary job and another. Why does some garden or domestic design hit the spot, and others are hopeless failures?
I've met many extremely successful designers in my work, and the two who spring to mind most readily, produce environments that I really don't like very much at all, but their clients do, and that is the main thing. Or is it?
One set of well-known garden designers have used me (and others like me) a lot over the years, and I have noticed that they would rather cut their own hands off than introduce me to their clients. That makes commercial sense, of course, but it does show a very insecure attitude to their own abilities. The whole point of a good designer is that they bring the whole project together with the help of all the artists and craftsmen - then put their own magic on top like sprinkling fairy-dust, and this is what makes the project unique to them.
My job is - when making objects from new - to put some magic into it or, more precisely, bring some magic out of it. That Portland Roach stone is physically very difficult to use, which is why it is avoided by most ordinary masons (who have a hard enough life as it is) but when used properly, it makes the magic part of the job so easy. How? Because it actually speaks to you.
I know this sounds like a really arty-farty thing to say, but it is true. Have you ever wondered why people refer to some noisy streams as 'babbling brooks'? If you have never done so already, then the next time you find yourself in a quiet spot in the countryside, next to water that is running over rocks, sit down and listen for as long as it takes. After a while, you will fall into a trance-like state, and then you will hear the voices. You will never be able to understand what they say, but you will hear them nevertheless.
When you cut Portland Roach stone into a formal architectural shape, what you are really doing is opening a window so that it can look through at you. It speaks to you silently, like the Al Fayum tomb paintings do. Stare at that portrait above which is staring back at you, and you will hear the voice of a person who has been dead for 3000 years saying, "Remember me!" It even works from a book, or - in this case - off a computor screen.
Nothing is more ridiculous and disrespectful to an antique object than bad restoration. When a proud craftsman leaves his own mark or signature on an ancient object he has restored by making a plainly obvious repair, he is - effectively - gagging the object for ever. If he hasn't totally gagged it, then he has been idiotic enough to elbow the thing out of the way until he takes centre stage, and by doing that he has ruined it - all the while imagining that his name will live forever through the object. Well his name is soon forgotten like everyone else's, but his stupidity lives on.
I have always taken great care in trying not to leave a trace of myself behind when restoring or conserving stone, antique objects, and when I have failed to go in and out unnoticed, I feel very silly indeed.
An antique-dealer customer once left me an object to restore and, during the time that it was at my workshop, he forgot what it used to look like and how badly damaged it was.
When he returned to collect it, I gave him my bill and he said, "How can it be that much? I can't even see what you have done to it!"
I told him that it was that much because he could not see what I had done to it, and if I had done a worse job, then it would have been cheaper. Bloody antique dealers.