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Baby and Elves sculptures

In December 2015, I completed a sculpture based on early ancient Greek Cycladic sculpture. I call it "Baby" because it references the infancy of Western sculpture. I also produced six short beams to support the mantel in our new house in Cape Cod. I call these the "elves under shelves."

A Cycladic sculpture

The "Baby" sculpture was completed in December 2015. The wood is English Plane (related to sycamore) from a large tree we had taken down in our back yard a couple of years ago. It was one of several logs that I had the arborist cut from the tree before removing the rest by crane. I started carving the log, based on a small copy of a Cycladic sculpture that I had purchased in Greece. During two visits, Rusty assisted in the carving. It was at first difficult to achieve the three-dimensional symmetrical form of the model. In addition, the quality of the wood seemed ragged, so I wondered if I could get a nice surface or reveal an interesting grain. It was not really until the piece was completed and oiled that the beauty of the wood was revealed.

The Cycladic sculptures date back to the Neolithic era of pre-history, between 5000 BCE and 2400 BCE. They were carved in the finest Greek marble, which is local to the Cycladic islands and was exported to Athens and elsewhere in classical Greek times. Little is known about the Cycladic people and their world, although the group of islands was a crossroads of the Mediterranean even before sailing ships were invented.

The Cycladic sculptures were likely fertility objects. Most of them represented young women of child-bearing age and accentuated their female features. Certainly, they involved the life cycle, and are often found in graves.

Because my sculpture is based on the Greek marble Cycladic sculptures from the birth of sculpture and because of their connection with fertility, I named my sculpture "Baby" and dedicated it to Rusty and Sarah's daughter.

The Cycladic Islands of Greece are set in the Aegean Sea. The ancient Greeks called these islands the kyklades, a scattered kyklos or circle, of islands around the holy island and sanctuary of Apollo, Delos.

The Cycladic sculptures all possess certain features: canonical (e.g., folded arms), proportional and simplistic. They appear in museums now as pure in their whiteness. However, these sculptures were frequently painted. Pigments were used to add detail. The only facial feature carved was the nose. The sculptures have all been excavated at Cycladic cemeteries.

The Neolithic and Bronze Age Cycladic figures present an intriguing link between prehistoric art and Western art; between the figurines of Galgenburg and Willendorf and the sculptures of Brancusi and Modigliani. As Lord Colin Renfrew states, "a handsome standing figure, with quiet, unassertive rhythms and balanced proportions, achieves one of the most compelling early statements of the human form."

Is it that there is something incredibly modern about these prehistoric figuring sculptures, or has humankind always portrayed the human form in a manner that utilizes elegance and simplicity, with figures mastered by style and yet full of life? The emotional pitch is achieved by the omissions, distortions and exaggerations, and in so doing the artists create a tension between the abstract and the real.

The Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens is dedicated to the study and promotion of ancient cultures of the Aegean and Cyprus, with special emphasis on Cycladic Art of the millennium BC. It was founded in 1986. The MCA's Cycladic collection is one of the finest collections of Cycladic artifacts in the world.

The Cyclades is a group of small islands in the central-southern Aegean, first inhabited in the 5th millennium BC. Although not particularly fertile, they had rich mineral deposits. They were close to each other, which made safe navigation between the islands in rowboats easy (sailing ships were only invented ca. 2000 BC). During the Early Bronze Age, when people started using bronze for their tools and weapons, a sophisticated culture flourished in the Cyclades that thrived for almost a millennium. This period—called Early Cycladic—ranges from 3200 to 2000 BC.

The Early Bronze Age inhabitants of the Cyclades used their local supplies of fine white marble to make both figurines and a variety of stone vases. The development of sculpture was one of the most impressive achievements of the Early Cycladic culture. Archaeologists organize the well-known stylized marble figurines in two basic types: schematic and naturalistic. The majority of Cycladic figurines represent nude females in standing position. Less frequent are models of male musicians, warriors and groups of figures in a range of postures.

Early Cycladic figurines are some of the most compelling early statements of the human form that appeals to the contemporary eye. With their quiet rhythms, expressive minimalism and balanced proportions, they look remarkably modern.

I took these photos at the Museum during May 2010, when we went on a  wonderful cruise of the Cycladic Islands to celebrate my 65th birthday:

Here are some images of the completed "Baby" sculpture:

Elves under Shelves

I plan to sculpt a mantelpiece to wrap around the fireplace in the center of our new house. I have fashioned six supports to help hold up the four sides of the mantel (in the entrance way, the great room, the access area for the deck and the kitchen).

Four of the supports are hickory, from a tree we cut down in our front yard over a decade ago. Two of the supports are dogwood, from a large branch that fell down in our back yard last winter.

I first striped the bark and squared the logs to create a solid rectangle for each support, approximately 4" x 6" x 9". I then carved the rough form with a gouge and smoothed it with a large rasp. Finally, I sanded the pieces and oiled them with tung oil. In January, I will take them to the construction site, square them andmount them on the fireplace. After we move in, I will prepare the mantelpiece and mount it on the elves.