Just before Christmas, having finished my Last Supper carving, I found myself working on a design for a chess set. With my customised sloping bench, and the ability to sit down to carve small things, I realised that I could go back to my first love - woodcarving. I'm not a great chess player, but I've always been intrigued by the game, and my late father-in-law was a fine player. The ideas are coming thick and fast now, but this first project will be an entirely hand carved set involving the Ottoman, versus the Austro Hungarian army. Some pieces - like the knight - will take longer than others. And since this isn't a regular size, I'll make the board to go with it. If you're interested in this extraordinary, one off chess set, that will be completed later this year, don't hesitate to contact me.
Early on in the Covid 19 lockdown, we decided to seize the opportunity of clearing out our garden sheds and - more importantly - Alan's woodcarving workshop at the bottom of the garden. Because Alan suffers with severe and debilitating forms of arthritis, he had spent some years painting, and had hardly used the workshop at all, except as a place to store tools, and occasionally to cut up a piece of wood for framing. The result was that it had become extremely cluttered. We took our time, and I (Catherine, his wife) did most of the heavy lifting and all of the trundling up and down the garden. Good exercise for me. I don't think we had realised just how miserably neglected the place had become.
Buried under a large pile of miscellaneous stuff, we found a huge and beautiful block of lime wood. Many years ago, Alan had been asked by an American customer to carve him a depiction of the Last Supper, and Alan had drawn out the design and started to carve it, before the customer decided that he didn't want it after all. So he had shelved it and got on with other things. Back then, he was making sculptural rocking horses, and doing all kinds of huge outdoor carvings so he wasn't short of work.
Cue forward all these years - it was early summer, and we gazed at the solid piece of wood - some 30 by 15 inches by 4 inches deep. 'Why don't you finish it?' I asked. So he did.
It has taken him many months but yesterday, he completed it. It was very difficult, because the arthritis affects his hands too, so he could only work for a limited time each day. The other problem is that he can't stand for more than a few moments at a time, so he had to find a way of working that meant he could sit down to do it. Fortunately, our clear-out had also uncovered a useful folding workbench, with a tilting facility, that was exactly the right size for the carving, and that could be set at the right angle. This meant that he could sit in his comfortable lightweight folding wheelchair, and work away, getting a little fresh air as he did so.
The year and the carving moved on. It took a whole lot longer than he thought it would. This is a highly detailed relief carving.
Autumn came and with it the usual, west of Scotland wet, chilly weather. I suggested that he move indoors, so he commandeered the conservatory, where he could work in warmth and light. And now, in early November, he has just sealed and finished it with some layers of good shellac.
It is a thing of great beauty. The disciples look as though they are having quite a good time! People keep asking us what we are going to do with it next. Of course, we are hoping to sell it - we need the money - but the price will have to be right. No crafter is ever fully reimbursed for the hours spent on a piece of work, but I'd rather keep this than let it go without Alan being suitably rewarded, especially given his health challenges. And if I'm honest, perhaps because of the subject matter, I for one would rather it went to somewhere like a church, or a museum or a collection where it could be appreciated by lots of people for the minor miracle of craftsmanship that it so obviously is. A friend suggested that it would be good to find an Italian home for it, and I can see what she means. They love and appreciate woodcarving in Italy as perhaps it's never quite valued here.
Meanwhile, we're enjoying it. But all suggestions for its future home, as well as for a woodcarving aficionado with reasonably deep pockets gratefully received!
During lockdown, we took the opportunity to clear out my old workshop that had become very cluttered with old projects and other things - mainly because health problems had dictated that I work indoors for a large part of the year. Among large amounts of rubbish - all kinds of things kept because they might come in useful one day - I discovered the above carving - or at least the large piece of lime that I had blocked out and sketched out, with the intention of carving a large Last Supper.
It was started many years ago, because a client from the US had expressed an interest in such a carving. A little while later, he decided that he didn't want it (it hadn't been a firm commission) so I shelved it and got on with other things. There it was, drawn out and blocked out and just asking to be worked on.
I've been working on it, slowly but surely, for some weeks now, right through my 'shielding' time. But there is quite a lot more work to be done on it. I had to rig up a sloping carving station so that I can work on it from my wheelchair, and I'm really hoping to get it to a stage where I can work on it indoors before winter returns, when it will be too cold for me to work at the bottom of the garden.
It's quite a long time since I did any carving at all, even though that used to be my main occupation. I can't begin to tell you how much I'm enjoying working on this!
I'd like to find a good home for it when it's finished - perhaps a church or religious foundation. I'll send it anywhere in the world. Don't hesitate to enquire about measurements, price etc.
As 2020 gets under way, here in Scotland, we're making a determined effort to consolidate and simplify our online presence, all with the aim of getting more and better information to potential customers, as well as those who are just interested in finding out more about what we do.
This means that most of Alan's work will be for sale on two sites: the 200 Year Old House on Etsy and on eBay as well. If you're interested in buying, click on these links to go direct to those stores.
This also means that we'll be seeking to refresh the images on this website more often, including new work whenever possible - but also that this page has become a 'news' rather than a blog page. Most of our blogging about Alan's work, about Scotland and other interesting topics, will be concentrated on our 200 Year Old House blog. If you click on the link it should take you to our sister site where you can read more about where we live and what we do, including Alan's unique painting style.
Happy New Year to all our customers, past, present and to come. Don't hesitate to contact us through the contact page on this site, through our sales channels, or through the 200 Year Old House blog if you prefer.
This month, at Garrion Bridges Art and Antique Centre Alan has set up a little promotional display for his folk art furniture. If you follow the signs from Glasgow along the Clyde valley, towards New Lanark, you'll pass the turnoff for Garrion just beside the Garrion Bridges over the River Clyde - it's a very friendly place, with an excellent cafe and lots of beautiful antiques. There are some lovely pictures of a number of his pieces of work (the photographs are for sale too!) as well as a couple of pretty plaques, and a rolling pin and butter pats, all hand painted.
Contact us on 01655 750386 if you would like to commission a piece, or to visit Alan's studio, here in Kirkmichael in Ayrshire, and buy one of the wonderful fairytale pieces he already has in stock! Visitors only by appointment. You can visit friendly Garrion Bridges at any time during normal working hours.
We've been quiet for a little while because Alan has been working hard on a new range of absolutely gorgeous folk art furniture. The above piece is a child's vintage wooden rocking chair, made in Slovenia and Alan has decorated it freehand with extraordinary traditional Slovenian motifs - bees and decorative beehives, a peasant boy fighting a dragon and various agricultural motifs, sometimes quite quirky. It is currently for sale in our Etsy store: the 200 Year Old House. Why not go over there and have a look at our other vibrant and original items.
With Easter and Good Friday fast approaching this seems like a good time to publicize the fact that we badly want to find a new home for this large and impressive piece of work - that really needs to be in a church or some kind of religious foundation. It is a crucifixion scene, in acrylics on canvas, with an extraordinary hand made driftwood frame - the whole thing is disturbing, but very beautiful. We need space, so we will consider literally any offer for it, provided it comes from a worthy source, and provided you can arrange to pick it up from the studio, here in South Ayrshire. It would fit in the back of a reasonably big people carrier, or small van. It seems such a shame that such an amazing piece of work isn't being seen more widely! So do pass this on to any church, parish, religious association you feel might be interested. You can contact us through this website, or through Alan's Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/alanleesartist/
Alan's wonderful 'Bonspiel' curling picture went to a new home a few weeks ago. We had had some of his wintry pictures made into Christmas cards. It wasn't a marketing exercise as such, since they were sent to lots of old friends who know all about Alan's work - although the wonderful Moo.com allowed us to upload several pictures in one order, always an advantage when ordering greetings cards.
Anyway, a good Scottish friend of many years standing, now living in the south of England, saw the picture and wondered if it might still be 'on the market'. It was, and now it has pride of place in his living room. It's always so satisfying to place a picture with somebody who really loves it!
Watch this space for news of sales and forthcoming exhibitions too!