Please note that the KCC September meeting will now be held on the 15 September and not 8 September.
Community Council News
On 31st December following fumigation of the crated and tarpaulin-wrapped Kelsae, the block was craned into an open top container and lifted to the deck of the Nicoline Maersk for onward shipping to Felixstowe. The stone left Chennai on Wednesday 1st January. By way of the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean, Red Sea, Suez Canal, Mediterranean, Bay of Biscay, then through the English Channel and finally into the North Sea, Kelsae arrived in Felixstowe on 26th January. The container was then transferred to a local ship that sailed up the East Coast to dock in Grangemouth on Friday 31st January.
Following dock crane lift from the Nicoline Maersk and transfer to a temporary holding zone Kelsae underwent customs clearance and was de-vanned from its container. It was then forklifted to a 40-foot J.S. Hislop lorry and delivered to Kelso Square on Monday 17th February.
On site the stone’s protective wooden cradle was unbolted and removed before a 50 tonnes Rodger (Builders) Ltd crane lifted Kelsae to its pre-prepared sub-surface concrete pad within the Town Square. The delivery and installation process was efficiently undertaken and was an imposing event. Witnessed by a relatively small gathering of around 50 people, I was a little disappointed that more Kelso folk didn’t have fore knowledge of the stone’s arrival to see the delivery and craning operation.
Health and Safety concerns about controlling a potentially much larger group of people were the deciding factor in not pre-advertising the event. Recordings by local television and newspaper coverage incorporating comment from myself and from randomly selected locals were broadcast a few days later to a more extensive Borders audience.
During this period the lengthy process of visiting over 200 places to meet with people and collect place names for the stone took place. I handed out a signed letter describing the concept of Kelsae and invited people to provide a sample of their hand written place name.
Contributors wrote their place name in upper and lower case and added their contact details on a prepared form. With two format examples available I could select either the upper or lower case version when inscribing into the stone. Assisted by Kelso’s Stakeholder Group and others when collecting the place names many long hours were needed to collate the required data. Former provost Margaret Riddle advised which areas of the perimeter of Kelso should to be incorporated on the stone, and selected appropriate place name providers within these sectors. I’m grateful to all those who helped during this information gathering time.
There are many interesting characters in and around Kelso and meeting these folk to collect the required text was both inspirational and enjoyable. In a small handful of cases skepticism or gentle criticism about the Kelsae idea was encountered. After reading the concept letter and conversing to gain a more thorough understanding of the project initial concerns were invariably replaced with a genuine interest and enthusiastic involvement to help make the Kelsae Stane.
On 4th March I began working on the sculpture by inserting stone pegs into pre-existing drill holes. Already in the 33 tonnes basalt block when it was purchased from the Indian quarry a system of plugs and feathers would normally have been inserted into these holes as a means of splitting the large block into two more manageable proportions. During the carving process in India I removed most of the drill holes but chose to retain a short line as a feature for Kelsae.
I’ve pegged a few stone sculptures in the past. In this respect, the decision to retain and use them is partly a signature act. As well as referencing a street sett/cobble Kelsae is a fragment of the landscape. Therefore, in a landscape context where boundaries proliferate, for example, hedges, walls and fences etc., I think of the pegged line as a definition of a boundary. From a formal perspective, this element also creates another aspect of visual interest to the sculpture.
In late April the process of plotting compass points on Kelsae and devising a way of accurately locating the names in relation to each other on the stone’s flanks took place. Firstly, the centre point of Kelso Square (centre point of the stone) was established on an Ordinance Survey Map. From that coordinate, twelve radius circles were drawn through the intersection points of the light blue 1km grid on the map. The centres of all towns, villages and farm steadings encircling Kelso were marked. A sheet of tracing paper was placed on the map.
With a steel rule I drew lines traversing all the dot-marked places and projected these to the edge of the tracing paper. Traversed place names were written on each line at the edge of the paper. Cardinal compass points were established with white tape on the stone’s topmost plane and tape applied around its perimeter. The tracing paper drawing with its radiating lines was then affixed to synchronise with the compass points tape-marked on the top of the stone.
With a fine string the lines were projected to the edges of the top plane and these marked on the perimeter edging tape. The stones flanks were divided into 12 units to correspond with the 1km grid lines on the Ordinance Survey Map. With a level a precise vertical from the edging tape name was established, and by counting the 1km grid units from the centre point on the map (centre of Kelso/Kelsae), it was possible to accurately position where each place name should be in relation to each other on the stone’s flanks. Each place name was affixed to the stone’s flanks with strips of gaffer tape carrying the written place name. Now plotted, the process of replacing the taped name with everyone’s hand written version and the carving of these into the stone could begin.
A continuous stream of people arrived to write their place name directly onto Kelsae’s flanks throughout the month. The choice of people to write their place name on the Stane is egalitarian in as much as contributions come from those very young and just beginning to write, to someone almost 102 years old. They come from the ‘weel kent’ and ‘weel heeled’ to the fairly obscure and ordinary local inhabitants.
I chose the location point of the place names on the stone and in each case, whether upper or lower case was to be replicated. All town and village names are inscribed with capitals. Choosing to use upper or lowercase writing elsewhere is a visual and formal decision or simply because the version chosen is more characterful. In no instance is upper case used to emphasise importance of place. When people arrived to write their name directly onto the stone they initially did so with white engineering chalk. Easily rubbed out, this enabled the writer to space the letters and adjust the form as required. For me, appropriate letter size and spacing was important for the carving process. Once established, a permanent black marker was used to make a precisely drawn line to accurately inscribe to.
I’ve used four carving techniques for the inscriptions. One is carving by hand with a standard tungsten carbide letter-cutting chisel. Three other methods utilise a rotary die grinder and various industrial diamond bits and wheels. I decide which method to use according to a person’s writing or for visual and formal reasons to create an interestingly varied and layered drawn surface on the Kelsae Stane.
Some place-name contributors develop a tendency to over carefully write on the stone with this leading to the loss of aspects of character and individuality in the natural writing style. With paper copy versions of writing available to refer to its been possible to point out and rectify situations where too adverse change has taken place. Some preferred that I write their place name on the stone. I’ve done this by replicating their handwriting from the paper copy provided. In the case of Primary School children I’ve found the best outcome is for me to first copy their hand written word in dot form onto the stone and then for the child to complete the drawn word form by joining up the dots. I much enjoy the tendency of those beginning to write and also of some adults to mix upper and lowercase letter forms in their words. In some cases this may be a sign of early stages of learning, dyslexic tendencies or simply an endearing habit developed over time. An instance of an apparent misspelling of Cauldron Brae (Caldronbrae) on the Ordinance Survey Map was revealed and in the case of Primsidemill the OSM calls the farm Primsidehill. Some places are not recorded at all.
Participators have enthusiastically engaged with writing their place name on Kelsae and many express disappointment when it’s not possible to add their place name also. I include what it’s possible to do, but space and distance from Kelso are the limiting factors. Many folk regularly return with pride to see their incised name and to view the overall development of the stone. There is a great deal of interest and continual flow of people who come to see the Kelsae Stane. They avidly watch the technical process of incising and read the About The Kelsae Stane text board that I hang on the Heras fencing each day. It’s enjoyable to talk with people I know but have not had the opportunity to meet with since High School days almost 50 years ago. Also, its a pleasure conversing with the literally hundreds of interested and enquiring visitors to the town and those local Kelso folk who express genuine admiration for the idea of the Kelsae Stane. The engagement of overseas visitors is particularly noticeable. In such cases, undertaking an education system that values and encourages visual and creative thinking and engagement with art is clearly beneficial. On most days the volume of interested and inquisitive onlookers makes it necessary to have an assistant to field the many questions aired or to allow people access to take photographs and view all flanks of the stone.
I have derived a great deal of pleasure from the opportunity to create this work of art for Kelso. A point in time has been established with the making of this sculpture. I anticipate that in due course, like myself, all the contributors and their forebears and those countless hundreds of interested observers will derive much pride from being involved with and witnessing the period of creating the Kelsae Stane.
The Kelsae Stane will be unveiled at 3.00pm on Monday 14th July 2014
Professor Jake Harvey
Sunday 22nd December
Including today there are now six working days left before I return to Scotland. Time seems to have flown past. Before lunch at 1.00pm I worked on all flanks of the stone with the hand pitcher continuing to simplify the formally busy areas and subduing apu marks. In time the block will develop a natural patina that will erase the whiteness of the pitcher and apu evidence. To a top form that was almost too hot to touch with the heat from a burning sun, another thin coat of coconut oil was applied. I had the afternoon off and walked to Mamallapuram along the beach with Penny. Every day just now there are one or two dead Olive Ridley and Leatherback turtles being washed up on the shoreline. Two have been tangled in fragments of monofilament net but others appear unscathed. Perhaps they too have been drowned in the fishermen’s mesh and have been discarded into the sea when the nets are retrieved. This must be the time of year when turtles migrate through these local waters.
Other than pitching here and there and applying coats of coconut oil this stage of making Kelsae is completed. I had expected the carpenter to arrive in the morning to begin making a protective wooden crate for the stone. He arrived at 2.30pm in a small lorry with a load of hardwood timber. Arunachalam suggested using a small crane to lift the block tomorrow morning to enable the placing of hefty bearers underneath. I dissuaded him of the crane idea because of the damage the chains were likely to do to the edges of the honed top form. Instead, we mined under the block and sledgehammered the batons into place. From these baseline batons the carpenter will construct the crate tomorrow.
I worked with the carpenters today helping to make the stout wooden cradle for Kelsae. Square section hardwood batons measuring 4’’ x 4’’ (10cm x 10cm) were bolted together to form the main structure with wood wedges and subsidiary batons strengthening the crane lifting points and overlapping vulnerable edges. The honed top is sheeted with protective tarpaulin. Sandrachegeran the carpenter and his assistant Thulasi worked exceptionally hard to get the job finished by 5pm. Considering the hardness of the wood and fairly inadequate tools used, they managed to make a stable and very robust structure. The signal to finish work for the day is not only the failing light, but the rush of fattened cattle who have been feeding on vegetables, fruit, sugar cane offcuts and other titbits all day in the markets of Mamallapuram. The stampede down the main road is hair raising in terms of cattle and vehicle driver’s safety but it’s also quite amusing. Those at the rear don’t enjoy being left behind by the front-runners. They rush with anxious looks. The approaching darkness is the catalyst driving them to wherever their home is.
Today Penny and I walked along the beach to Mamallapuram where I met Arunachalam who took me to a tool shop to buy a die grinder and diamond bits. When watching the local carving craftsmen at work I’ve been much impressed with the efficiency and versatility of the tools they use on local granites/basalt. They will be perfect for varying the ways I incise the place names into Kelsae. Later in the afternoon Arunachalam also took me to a local toolmaker’s workshop. Most of the quality tungsten tipped and industrial diamond bits used by the local carving yards are manufactured by this toolmaker. I couldn’t resist the temptation to stock up further.
Three cranes lifted Kelsae onto a 40-foot articulated lorry late this afternoon. The protective crating buckled in places under the crushing squeeze of the heavy chains as they cradled and lifted the stone’s 18 tonne weight. I think the edges are okay. The manoeuvreing operation blocked the main Chennai to Mamallapuram road for a short while and for me it was another nerve-wracking event, but that’s the job now done and dusted. Kelsae will be taken to the port of Chennai where it will undergo customs clearance before being craned again into an open top container for onward shipping to Felixstowe. This may be as early as January 1st next Wednesday. The journey is stated as being 28 days. At Felixstowe the container will be transferred to a local ship for delivery to Grangemouth. Kelsae may be in Kelso in early February.
It’s not normal for me to keep a diary during the making of a work. This has evolved from a request by the commissioners in Kelso to report on the progress of making this stage of Kelsae in India. I hope the reports have not been over long, too repetitive or tedious for those of you I’ve also copied the information to. I’ve gained a lot from the people I’ve worked with in India and India itself is simply a wonderful experience. The process of making the piece has been rewarding. I hope the people of Kelso have similarly derived some benefit from the descriptions of creating Kelsae and will continue their interest and involvement when I engage in the inscription phase in the Spring in Kelso Square.
26th December, 2013
I spent the day light flush cutting the whole of the top plane of the block eliminating diamond blade marks as much as I could and unifying the overall form. As remedial work is needed where the deep wedge has come out, the polishers have been postponed until Tuesday. They will refine the surface of the top form with green carborundum stones and then use diamond polishing pads and finishing compounds.
Sandaham and Jayarman set about sorting out the end of Kelsae shortly after 9.00am. They’ve used apu wedges and the big pitcher so far and the wedge has now developed into a big scallop. The indent’s lowest point is deeper than preferred but it’s a good shape. Further apu work is needed around this hollow to take back surrounding forms that now look too bulky. This additional work is an annoying nuisance. An aspect of the block’s mass has been interrupted from some views but the end is now more connected to the rhythmical nature of the rest of the stone. Previously it was lacklustre. I was being seduced by the simplicity for text application reasons rather than unity of the block. The cause of the large wedge coming out was not Sandaham’s error but most likely a natural vent. When the cooling and consolidation of molten basalt takes place in the flue of a volcano it does so at different spans of time. The core of a mass cools and solidifies less quickly than the peripheral material. This can result in some random cracking (venting) taking place within the matrix.
The crane arrived this afternoon and lifted the block one end at a time and pulled it out from underneath the overhead power lines to make the final craning operation onto the transport vehicle next week more straightforward. Chains are the lifting apparatus used in Arunachalam’s yard. The block is too heavy and sharp on the baseline edges for the use of webbed lifting slings. It’s an anxious experience watching these heavy double chains being used on the block. Wooden batons are inserted between the chain and vulnerable edges, but with the stone almost completed, moving it is an uncomfortable event. Tomorrow, Jayarman and Sandaham will spend another day sorting out the bothersome end. I’ve noticed a flat spot on the top plane and will undertake some early morning flush cutting to tie this in before the polishers begin at 10.00am. They estimate the work will take about four days.
I arrived in the yard shortly after 8am to integrate the flat spot. With the use of a line I deduced where to flush cut to assimilate the flat area on the top of the block, and elsewhere lightly tweaked the form. The polishers didn’t arrive. They’d gone to Chennai to buy abrasive wheels and other material for the job and will allegedly begin tomorrow. Although time is now getting tight, it was useful for Sandaham and Jayarman to have a second uninterrupted day fixing the end flank. By carefully using the apu wedge method and udi apu and big pitcher they’ve taken back the stone around the large scallop that still remains. The mass and unity of the block has re-emerged. There are numerous apu wedge and pitcher marks on this end form. I need to find a way of subduing them by selective pitching or consider ageing the block to lose the mark’s whiteness on the dark grey matrix. Maxwell Allan who was my inspirational carving instructor at Edinburgh College of Art advised the best method of speeding up the ageing process is to mix sheep droppings with water and paint this onto the stone. Perhaps I’ll give this malodorous method a try when the block gets to Kelso!
I made another decision today that I’ll thoughtfully work on before I leave India. Rather than retaining straight sharp angles on all corners I’m going to disrupt and round these in places to create more irregular boundaries. This will relate better to the perimeter of the top form, to the surfaces of the flanks and will generally enhance the three-dimensionality of the block. Another is to hand pitcher over all the flanks to take out flakey sections and some of the bigger marks where it’s possible to do so. Sharp edges will also be softened. I’m looking forward to a more sedate period of thinking and gentle working and keeping an eye on how the polishers are progressing with the top form.
Ramachandran and Murugeshan came to the yard today to say hello, look at Kelsae’s progress and express thanks for the photographs I’d sent them. They’re now employed 30 kilometres away apu wedging blocks in a quarry. The brother–in-law of the young lad who died in the traffic accident came to ask for copies of short video clips I had that incorporated glimpses of the now deceased. Providing these for the family was a privilege.
The polishers Kottaraj and Suresh arrived with all their equipment and began work around 10.30am. On De Walt grinders they attached 100mm 60-grit greenstones and worked over the surface of the top form removing the diamond saw marks and generally flattening the form. Occasionally they dampened the surface with a wet sponge – this enabling them to see the marked areas more clearly. Intermittently the greenstone ran less smoothly and began to oscillate. They corrected this with a momentary pass on an old diamond saw blade. This seemed effective in re-establishing the stone’s flatness and symmetry. When the greenstone grains clogged with wet stone dust a quick touch on a terracotta brick reopened the stone’s cutting properties. After the greenstone grinding, water-fed polishers were used with velcro-backed diamond polishing pads. They used 60/100/200/400 and finally 800-grit pads to get to the finished surface. I’m looking for a silky finish rather than a gloss as too high a finish can render stone like plastic. The polishers tell me that two days maximum are required to complete the job. Time-wise I’m relieved if this is the case but also a bit perplexed the job can be done so quickly. I’m wondering if corners are being cut and if they’re aware of the quality of finish I’m looking for. For this work initially I’d been told seven to ten days, then four, and now its two maximum! It may be that they’re not used to working on a surface that’s been shaped with a flush cutting diamond blade.
Whilst Kottaraj and Suresh are busily engaged I’ve started to work around the block with a fine tooth comb using two different sizes of udi apu (hand pitcher) to refine the surface and edges of all flanks. It’s enjoyable being in a position of being able to undertake this job at a more gentle and meditative pace.
Sandahman has spent his last day in the yard using the udi apu (pitcher) on Stephen Cox’s sculpture. He has also sharpened and tempered all the carving tools and the udi apu I’ll be using on Kelsae for the remaining days. Tonight we’ve bid each other farewell. I have the greatest respect for this Tamil Nadu craftsman whom I’ve learned so much from and whose input has been vital to the development of Kelsae. I hope I’ll have the opportunity to work with him again.
I arrived at the yard at 8.45am to spend uninterrupted time looking at the colour of the block and the quality of finish the polishers were achieving. Last night it was difficult to make an assessment in the fading light. The stone is a dark brown rather than a black. It’s a bonnie colour with some lighter veins running throughout the matrix. I was disappointed with yesterday’s polishing work. Not all of the diamond blade marks had been removed and in some places the surface undulated. In a sample final finish section neither did I enjoy the glassy surface made by the 800-grit diamond pad. The polishers didn’t arrive until 10.30am. By that time I was prepared to gently let them know they’d have to redo the polishing in a more thorough and structured way. With black felt pen I drew a 50cm x 50cm grid on the top form and then closely hatched all of these squares with the felt tip. I asked Kottaraj and Suresh to begin again with the orbital polishing machines, 60-grit industrial diamond pads and water. Also, to work opposite each other and use the hatched grid marks as a guide to ensure the whole surface of the stone was recut with all blade marks taken out. When they’d completed the entire top form I then checked the surface was okay and redrew the grid and hatch lines for the 100-grit pads. The 60-grit stage was completed by lunchtime and at 5 pm after the 100-grit phase was accomplished the result is already clearly better quality than yesterday’s work.
The same process will ensued for the 200 and 400-grit stages at which point I’ll then decide if the form is ready for the final finishing compound. The polishers will not finish until Saturday at the earliest.
Several of the people we’ve met including Vinayaham (Arunachalam’s driver) are fasting as a prelude to going on an annual 1,000k pilgrimage to the Sabarimalia Ayappa temple in Kerala State. Ayappa is the son of Shiva. Devotees each morning apply a band of sandalwood ash with a red dot on their forehead. Fasting lasts 30 days or 48 days if the 30 days is broken. After breakfast only vegetarian food can be consumed. No alcohol, tobacco, betel nut or other stimulant is taken. Everyone buys a coconut before the pilgrimage. This is punctured to drain the milk and then filled with ghee (oily butter) and sealed. When the stone or bronze effigy of Ayappa is approached, the coconut is smashed and the ghee spread over it. The pilgrim then sits in quiet contemplation in the same posture as Ayappa. Some of these temples have more than 10,000 pilgrims visiting each day. Everyone is given a date and time to visit the temple. Whatever the religion or God devoted to, the Indians are devout and active believers. To witness these ancient temples remaining active and thronging with streams of committed believers is an amazing sight and a rare glimpse of what ancient cultures elsewhere in the world must once have been like.
Early this morning when swimming, first a large pied kingfisher and then a bright iridescent blue one came to join us at the edge of the pool. Last night in the dingy bar where we often have supper the entertainment wasn’t so much the wall mounted television, but a rat doing gymnastics up the aerial cable that ran from behind the drinks refrigerator. Nobody seemed that perplexed. Wonderful. That’s India!
On checking the stone this morning I noticed small areas where a few diamond saw marks remained. These were circled with the felt pen and the polishers reworked the areas with the 60 and 100-grit diamond pads. It takes about three hours with two people working to undertake the greenstone and 60-grit phases. Thereafter, an hour and a half for each grade is sufficient. Before lunch, the grid was re-drawn twice and two passes made with the 200 grit pads. In the afternoon, after the 400 level was completed the stone had the lustre I was aiming for. The final job at the end of the day involved infilling three very small holes where crystals had plucked out with araldite mixed with stone powder.
Today, some sparse grinding and polishing on the honed top was followed with the application of a thin coat of coconut oil. This needs to be applied several times over the next few days. There’s a slight porosity in the surface crystals of the stone and the oil will eventually penetrate these enough to fill them and form a permanent patina. The oil will uniformly seal the surface and reveal and enhance the stone’s matrix and colour. Virtually all temple statuary in South India is finished with coconut oil. The flanks of the stone as a result of the run off from the honing and polishing processes were very dirty and in need of a good clean. By using Sabena (domestic washing powder) and water the block was given a scrub down and now looks fresh and dynamic. I feel the contrasting tones, colours, forms and textures of the stone work well. Apart from minor tweaking of the scalloped forms on the flanks Kelsae in India is almost finished. The pegs will be affixed in the old drill holes when the stone arrives in Kelso as its not possible to get the stone resin to do the job here in India.
The carpenter arrived in the late afternoon to measure up for making the protective crating for the block. This is particularly necessary to protect the edges of the stone as another traumatic craning operation takes place next week when it’s lifted onto a lorry for onward transportation to Chennai.
Sunday 8th December
In the morning I spent some time looking at Kelsae and watched the carver in the next yard to Arunachalam’s cut stone with a grinder. He wore a scarf dust mask and his electric grinder was customised with a water-feed system. I had a chill out day rather than working, and took a motorised rickshaw to Mamallapuram for lunch. Penny and I had an invigorating walk back to the TTDC along the beach. The wild cyclonic waves of the Bay of Bengal thundered along the shoreline. No fishing boats dared to venture out to sea.
Sandaham had all the tools out and ready to start when I arrived in the yard at 9.00am. He had traveled by bus from his village, which is 60 kilometers away. A new Kelso Tool Company diamond flush-cutting blade was fitted on a second large angle grinder. I indicated where Sandaham should work and demonstrated the angle to cut to. He’s a quick learner and checking his alignments often wasn’t necessary. I was surprised when Hari later arrived in the yard. Another workshop two kilometres away in the direction of Mamallapuram had hired him. The Tamil Nadu itinerant stone workers move around constantly. I was reminded of a small book I read last year called Stone Mad. Within are entertaining tales of the life of traveling stone carvers in Ireland in the 19th and early 20th century. It’s a very good read. Hari’s eyes were much improved. I asked myself whether the eye drops had eventually worked, or had two days away from carving helped, or perhaps it was the skinful of brandy?
By lunchtime Sandaham and I had developed a good synergy working together diamond flush-cutting the top plane. The masons working on Stephen Cox’s bollards demonstrated a simple method of using a steel tape to identify the low and high points on the curved surface. The modest tip was like gold dust in helping to get nearer the continuity of curve and the formal tension we were striving for. A small surface is comparatively easy to control, but it’s easy to lose track on an expansive area. All afternoon I worked on a low point in the centre of one of the sides. This is where a deeper than desired scallop came out weeks ago. A thin 3 mm taken off either side of the dip tomorrow should finally resolve this troublesome section
After a focused half an hour in the morning at last we had the low point fixed. I cut the angle of the top plane at one end for Sandaham to follow and worked at shaping the other. By following the curvature of the peripheral swathe cut at the ends and sides we got consistency and continuity into the shape. What time remained of the day and the next will be consumed by the slow job of flush cutting. When completed, light flush cutting to take out the errant saw-blade cuts will be needed. Also, where the edges of the top form meet the flanks some udi apu (hand pitcher) work is necessary to remove apu marks and adjust the regularity of a meandering line. It will be Thursday at the earliest before Kelsae is ready for greenstone grinding. The sun is relentless. Apart from the chai breaks it’s essential to drink plenty of water to rehydrate. At 5 pm I was agreeably surprised by progress made. A further three square metres of waste remain to be cut before checking all the levels and curves. From 3 pm to 5 pm is a good time to work. As the sun quickly drops towards the horizon the intense heat of the day subsides. The light begins to fade at 5 pm and its pitch dark at 6 pm. Sandaham has gone home to his family tonight.
I woke early in morning after a deliberating night. Feeling uneasy and within me knowing that the top form wasn’t quite right. On scanning through computer photographs I confirmed the need for the rectifying solution I’d conjured up in the night. I find computer photographs a valuable resource. They enable distance to be put between the stone, the work and me and help with objective evaluation. Much as I tolerated the curvature on one of the long sides, and had anticipated ending the flush cutting phase soon, I felt compelled to lower and flatten the whole area. The alteration would improve Kelsae. The work and time schedule for Sandaham and me would be extended, but there’s no alternative.
Today the intensity of the sun made it impossible to work without some protection. Our first job was to erect a tarpaulin sunscreen tying this to a tree, a security light fixture and to two long wooden poles dug into the ground. I then drew on the long side of the block to be changed. Sandaham diamond saw cut and udi apued (hand pitchered) removing the main bulk of waste. The entire length of the block was flush cut refining the new level and curve. The process of graduating the new level to the ends and topmost point of the block adds two days of work. By Saturday I should be at the stage of fine flush cutting the entire surface. The grinding and polishing team is rescheduled for Monday. An estimate of seven to ten days is needed for this final process.
I’ve asked Arunachalum to move the block away from under the overhead power lines before the honing takes place. Minimising moving operations that may damage the finished surface is a priority. When the 80 tonne crane comes from Chennai for the final lift into the container careful slinging and a single lift is required. As the 27th of December is my final working day in India, time is now of the essence. By the end of the day I can see that the change made has improved the top form exponentially. It’s odd how frequently a solution to problems is revealed in sleep.
There’s a dramatic change in the weather with a cyclone causing persistent heavy squalls of rain and wind to sweep inland and across the Sea of Bengal. The sea is tumultuous. The tide too is abnormally high and the golden sand beach gradient 30 metres away from our accommodation has completely disappeared overnight. A two metre vertical drop is where the sloping sand used to be. The sea has broken and carried away half of the concrete pad for the outside showers, a tree teeters precariously on the vertical edge with half its roots exposed and the summer house/coffee shop in one corner is undermined. Rocks, old slabs of concrete and black sand are where the golden sands were a day ago.
In the stone yard, the sunscreen tarpaulin is thrown to the ground. Sandahman and I untied the remaining guys, fold up the sheet and stash the wooden poles ripped from the ground. We flush cut the top of Kelsae intermittently between the rain showers. Considering the weather, good progress is made by lunchtime. The diamond blade appears to be cutting more quickly and I wonder if I’m simply getting more proficient at the job or that the angle I’m cutting the stone at is its more forgiving direction. Granite carves and splits more easily in one way than its opposite. Basalt has this nature also. In the afternoon more cutting, leveling and corner solving takes us to the end of the day. At 5 pm a cavorting herd of cattle of all shapes, age, size and colour run the gauntlet of the busy road. There’s no drover or sign of why or where they’re moving to. Last Sunday morning I found a dented van door with hair on it next to Kelsae. A half grown cow sitting in the verge opposite looked the victim. On inspection, the cow’s back leg was badly broken at the femur. All week I’ve been trying to get someone to dispatch, remove or attend to the animal. The cow’s given water, but nobody appears to want it humanely destroyed. I’m unsure if this is a karma issue or nobody wishing to take action against a sacred animal, or responsibility for someone else’s beast. I’m annoyed at this lack of compassion.
A calmer sea and a quickly rising sun signal the cyclone has passed. The day will be baking hot again. The cow has died overnight. In the yard I began working at 9.00 am and assume Sandahman is late but he never arrives. One of the three masons still working on Stephen Cox’s bollards says ‘Sandahman gone’. I felt disappointed and surprised. He seemed such a reliable person. However, when I thought of Stephen Cox’s experience of assistants being there one day and disappearing the next, perhaps this is the way of the itinerant carver. The work on Kelsae is getting less by the day and I can understand the offer of a longer period of secure work could be tempting. The flush cutting is also a hard, slow and dusty slog. Sandaham was going to undertake some final apu wedging on a few bulges and udi apuing (hand pitchering) to generally unify the block and get rid of some apu marks. I will need someone else for this job. I set about flush cutting the whole of one side of the block and tie in the corner forms. Good progress is made. I worked purposefully to meet my deadline of the top form being finished this weekend. Viniyaham who is Arunachalam’s driver arrived at 11.30 am and tells me Sandaham isn’t coming to work. He had telephoned Viniyaham to let me know his friend who had been in a coma for the past 4 weeks had finally succumbed. I then notice the workers in the next two yards are not there either. Everyone is at the cremation. I was relieved that Sandaham would return.
On the walk back to the TTDC Hotel for the regular Thali lunch I spotted a mongoose and an iridescent blue woodpecker. Birds are prolific. Apart from the ubiquitous corvids and egrets the mynah is also abundant. Green parakeets nest in tree holes and a few mornings ago I saw a saffron yellow golden oriole. At night small white and grey owls make a raucous whirring call. Chipmunks are everywhere you look on the ground and scurrying up trees and along branches. Every morning outside our room thousands of large dragonflies, some of these lime green, hover and move horizontally adjusting their height like squadrons of micro helicopters. Butterflies too flutter everywhere.
In the afternoon I made further significant strides structuring the top form and now have three square feet of rough waste left to remove on the apogee of the curve before final light flush cutting to remove saw marks and to unify the form.
Sandaham had the tools out and was ready to work when I arrived at 9.00 am. While I finished off the remaining area of waste on the top of the uppermost plane, Sandaham apu wedged two bulges I’d grown to dislike on the end of the block. We worked together udi apuing (hand pitching) out over busy sections with too many clusters of small forms and adjust the top plane’s perimeter line where it became over flamboyant. At one end the top plane stopped too abruptly. A slight curve had to be flush cut at this point. Also, a few flakey areas require small flat chisel work. Before lunch Sandaham asked for some photographs to be taken as a memento for him. I arranged this, and during lunch put others shots I’d already recorded on a USB pen. In the afternoon Penny organised prints in Mamallapuram. Sandaham was delighted with the photographs and took copies back to his village for the other quarrymen. Sandaham repointed the mason’s chisels and made two small udi apu for me in the blacksmith’s workshop to carve out the scaly sections. I light flush cut areas of the top plane and cut the curve that was needed. A paunchy section on one end was annoying me too much so I asked Sandaham to apu it out at 5 pm before we finished. This was the very last piece to remove. True to basalt’s unpredictable nature it didn’t respond as intended, and in a heart-stopping minute, a deep wedge came out. This needs sorted. On Monday morning the block will be turned with the crane to get better access to resolve the mishap. Sandaham and Jayarman will assist. This end of the stone was a bit dull before the chunk came out. It certainly isn’t now. Perhaps this is fate. With the correction required Kelsae will most likely be a much more interesting piece. Thank goodness for the ginger tea!
Sunday 1st December 2013
Thunder and lightning and heavy downpours of rain ensued overnight and it was damp and clammy with a stiff breeze throughout the day. I diamond cut the whole of the top surface. At the moment the top plane is too curved. I’m seeking a subtler arc – something more akin to a meniscus. An old drill hole right at the meeting point of the top plane and one of the sides is troublesome. I’m thinking of lowering the height of the sides by 5cm or so to get below the drill hole. This shouldn’t compromise the available text space too much, and the reduction in vertical height will have the advantage of making the whole of the honed top shape more physically and visually accessible to the viewer. The stone clearing girls are here again today and I break a number of the larger stones into smaller pieces for them with a sledgehammer. At 4.30pm a heavy monsoon rain calls an end to the working day.
Hari, Jayraman and I Udi Apu (pitcher) the diamond cut top plane and Ramachandran and Sandaham Apu wedge a few bulges on the flanks. A fair volume of stone needs to be removed from the top plane before getting to the flush cutting and flat grinding stages that precede polishing. Care is needed to ensure the diamond blade doesn’t cut into what will be the finished surface. Like peeling an orange the height in thin layers is taken down gradually. Before lunch Ramachandran is the catalyst in enacting a Poojah. The Poojah ceremony celebrates the new moon and is undertaken to ward of evil spirits and keeps everyone and everything in the yard safe and well. Firstly, a coconut is smashed on the road outside Arunachalam’s office building. Ramachandran, in cupped hands then holds a lemon with a flame on it and in a clockwise motion encircles people, the car, spaces and Kelsae. That too is then crushed on the edge of the road. Finally, a large watermelon with lit firelighter material atop is also taken around the office space, people, car and Kelsae. Ramachandran chants as he enacts the ritual. The watermelon is ceremoniously smashed on the road and red dye spread over the dismembered fragments. Pieces are distributed at the edges of the yard and Ramachandran impresses red palm prints on the concrete stanchions either side of the office canopy. Some areas of India sacrifice chickens and goats and Arunachalum tells us centuries ago humans were sacrificed. It feels like something very ancient has been experienced. Soon after the Poojah a large herd of goats swarm down the main road feasting on the fruit remains littered outside the numerous Mamallapuram carving workshops. They too know the meaning of a new moon. With the previous night’s heavy rain the block has settled into the earth at one end and is well off level. The crane is due to be in the yard moving Stephen Cox’s bollards tomorrow. I’ll get the block leveled then.
First thing in the morning I grasp the nettle and diamond cut below the niggling low point and drill hole in the centre of one of the long sides. I’ve been avoiding this job but couldn’t prevaricate any longer. The change in level seemed to make a massive difference to the sense of scale the block previously possessed. I was a bit concerned about the block’s overall loss of presence. Having made the inescapable move I now have to find the resurrecting solution. The top curvature is wobbly and flabby as a shape. This is most likely contributing to my feeling of loss. By simplifying the top shape and tightening up the drawing of the surface the overall unity and sense of mass should return. Late yesterday afternoon the workshop ran out of charcoal for the forge. Now replenished, Sandaham, Jayarman and Ramachandran are busily sharpening and tempering all the chisels and udi apu (pitchers). Sandaham is the blacksmith. He’s really quite a remarkable person. He can do everything exceptionally well and is very hard working and dependable. I have to take care not to offend the others by showing my admiration for Sandaham’s work and consciously try to limit the number of times I ask him to undertake the more complex jobs where mistakes or half done tasks have to be avoided. In the clay floored blacksmith’s workshop Ramachandran stokes the clay furnace with charcoal and adjusts the blower to control and vary the furnace’s intensity for heating the tools. Shrouded in a cascade of sparks and barefoot on charcoal fragments he chatters away continuously. When white-hot, with tongs he passes the tools to be sharpened to Sandaham who hammers and draws out the points on a section of railway line which is his anvil embedded in the floor. When the tool is perfectly shaped, with his tongs he tosses the tool to Jayraman who picks up the tool with his tongs and half submerges the now yellow to orange-hot tool in a circular quench bath for approximately 8-10 seconds. He makes a quick swirling motion with his tongs and lifts the partly tempered tool out of the water placing it upright in a shallow stone tray for final point tempering in a 5 mm deep skin of water. The vertically stacked tools remain in the tray until all forging is completed and finally are dunked in a bucket of water. They’re now ready to use. In the early afternoon the crane arrives to move and turn Stephen’s bollards. Everyone helps, and on the way out of the yard the crane lifts one end of Kelase. It needs chocked up with wood by 5 cm to get the level. For the last hour of the day I again diamond cut the whole of the top plane gauging where I need to embed the blade lightly or with more depth to rid the form of it’s lumpiness and get it more like the meniscus I envision. I’m not too concerned about the top form being level with the base line or the same height where it meets each of the side or end flanks. For me, symmetry is neither important nor sought for. Verticals, horizontals and balanced forms are pervasive in our environment. I’m looking to make something that isn’t a parallel to other objects. Something with a shape and dynamic of its own.
I decided to draw on the block and wander around it for a long time this morning while the quarrymen chisel and hand pitcher off the layer of stone that I’d fine-cut for them the previous evening. Ramachandran apu wedged a small area that needed trimming. True to basalt’s awkwardness, only a thin scallop sprung off. A mixture of the big pitcher and udi apu (small hand pitcher) helped to take the surface back. Before lunch I again lightly diamond cut the whole surface to take out some high points and tighten up the curvature. The work for the quarrymen is getting less and less and I can feel a certain melancholy from them as they realise their job is almost done. Sandaham is making basalt pegs for the drill holes. I’ve made a number of pegged sculptures previously and the idea of pegging the holes rather than filling them with resin is my preferred solution. The concept of the pegs defining a boundary also seems apposite for Kelsae. Tomorrow it’s likely that more light diamond cutting will be needed in the morning to further refine the shape of the top plane. I’ll do this while blacksmithing work is undertaken. Flush cutting with a diamond blade will begin soon to further refine the surface and get rid of all cutting and carving marks. This is the stage before final grinding, honing and polishing. The flush cutting is like a form of drawing that enables me to physically feel how much and where stone needs to be removed to get a tightness and continuity of form. This is a job I need to undertake myself. The quarrymen will also be unable to do the honing and polishing work. A specialist grinder and polisher will be hired for this stage of Kelsae’s development. I’m going to miss the quarrymen a lot, but their input is almost completed.
The working temperature is good for a Scotsman today being not too hot or muggy. It’s overcast and warm.
Starting at the low point and where the drill hole bisects the top curve I began flush cutting this morning. The quarrymen sharpened and tempered the tools. The flat diamond blade is useful in gauging the angles of the sides of the curve and where sections change to form the camber. The drawing and tightness of the shape I envision is something I can’t delegate. The next processes will be diamond grinding, greenstone honing and diamond polishing. On all the flanks where the text will be incised I need to eradicate clusters of small forms or where the apu marks are over intrusive. Working on the transitions between the main scallops and generally unifying the block will be my final consideration. I may ask Sandaham to help in these last stages. He’s finished making the pegs for Kelsae and is looking to see what else he can contribute to. This afternoon the team or some of them may be used by Stephen Cox to push his carving forward. The quarrymen are going home to their village this evening to attend a village wedding tomorrow. They’re all aware that there’s insufficient work remaining for them on Kelsae. With the exception of Sandaham they’re unable to diamond cut. I’ll ask Sandaham to return and help when I feel the top shape is ready for his input. I’m unsure whether another helper is needed and deciding between Ramachandran and Jayraman is a difficult decision. Hari isn’t a choice as his work rate has tailed off recently and he needs to stay away from the dust for a while to help his eyes improve. He was a bit late in starting work this morning and seemed listless and disinterested when carving. The stys in both eyes don’t appear to have improved despite the antibiotic eye drop treatment. I later detected an aroma of stale brandy – his reluctance to work was obviously a hangover from the night before. After what must have been another liquid injection at lunchtime he was well and truly oiled. Sitting on a large stone he was having an animated conversation with himself as everyone else worked and then subsided into a deep sleep. Late in the afternoon and before the quarrymen left with their wages and tip it was decided that Sandaham and Ramachandran would return to assist on Saturday. Sandaham will help me flush cut and Ramachandran will assist Stephen Cox who leaves with Judy to fly back to the UK late on Saturday.
The yard is quiet today with only three masons quietly tapping away with fine hammers and chisels finishing off the ends of some bollards that Stephen Cox is making for a building in London. Stephen is undertaking some hand carving on his figurative relief and I’m flush cutting the edges of Kelsae. It’s a slow job with the diamond blade blunting quickly on the basalt. I regularly have to run the blade through a lightly fired terracotta brick to remove some of the blade’s matrix to expose the industrial diamond fragments that cut the stone. The day seems to pass quickly but I manage to cut a 25 cm swathe around the entire block. The diamond blade flexes under pressure and the cut surface will later need grinding work to tighten the form. The arrival of Ravichandran morning and afternoon and his call of “chai, chai, chai” is a welcome break. The chai’s ingredients are cardamom, ginger, sugar, milk and tea. It’s very tasty and uplifting.
Sandaham and Ramachandran arrive early and have the tools out for work before 9.00am. It’s still too soon for either of them to help on Kelsae. I still don’t have the top plane shaped, as it needs to be. I decide to work alone to try and figure out the form. For the day, Sandaham and Ramachandran undertake heavy pointing work on the background of Stephen Cox’s relief sculpture. Light rain interrupts my cutting work intermittently throughout the day but by 5pm I feel as if useful progress has been made. I’ve sorted out the corners of the top plane and where the section turns to form the slight curve. I reckon two days of diamond cutting are still needed and arrange for Sandaham to work with me next week. A man who grinds and polishes stone tells me he’s also coming to work on Kelsae next week and asks when he can begin. I tell him Wednesday will be the soonest he can start. At 5pm Stephen and Judy Cox leave for Chennai airport and home to the UK, the quarrymen return to their village.
Sunday 24th November 2013
It’s overcast with showers but very warm and like being in a sauna this morning. In the yard Stephen Cox is carving with his assistant and I’m hand pitching off sections of stone I’d cut with a diamond saw the previous day. Arunachalam arrives and tells me the injured relative/friend of the quarrymen is in intensive care and in a coma. Ramachandran will be back to work tomorrow, but I’m not yet sure about the others. After lunch I do more diamond sawing on the base plane but heavy rain puts an end to work early. It would be good to get the base leveled this week.
Everyone is back this morning. Firstly the charcoal forge is fired up to sharpen and temper the chisels and pitchers. Each day a period of blacksmithing is needed as the tools dull quickly on the hard stone. Hari and Sandaham work on leveling the base and Ramachandran works on Apu wedging. Murugeshan leaves early on his motorbike to go back to his village. He’s received a message that his uncle who was recently operated upon is not well. The young lad who was hit by a car on Friday night is still alive. He needs an operation on damaged liver but his heartbeat is still too weak and inconsistent.
When the blacksmithing work is done everyone Apu wedges other than Hari who works on leveling the base. Hari works perilously near to his bare foot, which he seems to use as a sensor telling him when the stone is broken. Good scallops come off the stone. I like the wild rhythm these scallops make to the stone’s flanks and also the indexical mark made by the Apu wedging. Although it’s not the case, there’s a sense of minimal intervention on the block. A street cobble has this look. There’s a bulge on one of the long sides and an end that needs trimming. Late in the afternoon, a very big scallop – almost too big and deep occurs when Sandaham who is the best worker is Apu wedging. I can tell he’s anxious about the outcome. I am also, but try to reassure him that it won’t be a problem. Like a block of glass the stone breaks erratically. It’s simply difficult to predict or control. This is the nature of basalt. I have to go with the flow and find a solution to what happens. Tomorrow I’ll feed other flakes into and around the big scoop and try to subdue its dominance. The big surface will at least be good for text. I’m surprised by my abnormal calmness. It must be the ginger tea I have each morning!
My first job today is to cut sections on the base plane for Hari to continue pitching. Sandaham, Ramachandran and Jayaraman make wedge holes for the Apu. By lunchtime four substantial scallops are removed. Already the problematic large section that popped out yesterday is beginning to become less prominent. The new adjacent flakes relate to it and break into its domineering perimeter. A few more scallops will reduce the volume of this area and the integrity of the whole block should hopefully re-emerge. The afternoon involves a break to re-sharpen and temper the chisels and pitchers. I diamond saw what remains of the main bulk of waste on the base form and the others work to my drawn co-ordinates in removing more scallops on two of the long sides and errant end. Sandaham cuts a large chunk of stone off the difficult end and it too is now beginning to work. Some areas of the block are wonderfully rhythmic. Other areas of the stone remain too fragmented and need simplifying into bigger shapes. Without digging too deeply I somehow have to reduce the number of these small forms and where the evidence of the Apu and pitchers marks is over apparent, simplify these also. On the edges and within some areas of the flanks stich-mark notes of the Apu add definition to the turbulent surfaces. Ensuring all surfaces provide sufficient areas of unblemished space for the text to be added later is a continual consideration. I’m thinking of adding pigment, possibly a black and a white to some of the cut names as a means of developing the spatial and layering sense of the text. On a visit to the Five Rathas in Mamallapuram I saw black and white graffiti on a stone and enjoyed the visual effect of this. I’ll decide later.
On the walk home white egrets are planing in from all directions of the sky to roost in some high trees on the edge of our accommodation. They cackle and jostle for position in the branches. Literally hundreds and probably nearer a thousand of these birds decorate the trees like new snow. I find out from an Indian from Calcutta who is staying in the TTDC hotel that the egrets have migrated from Eastern Europe and Siberia where it’s now too cold for them. They will leave India in the late Spring.
The morning is spent Apu wedging around the block. Apart from a few sections I’m beginning to feel the shape and character is nearly completed. Enlarging the bitty and over complex areas still needs some focused attention. I mark the problem areas and draw the shapes of stone I’d like to have removed. The quarrymen follow the drawn directives as best they can, but I’m aware that basalt has a mind of its own and doesn’t always co-operate as you wish or intend.
The base is not yet leveled. Tomorrow morning the crane is ordered to move the stone just enough to get the drawn co-ordinates on one end and side horizontal. Hari will then use a South Indian method called a Matum, which involves triangulation with three sticks to flatten and level the base. I look forward to seeing and recording this method tomorrow. It’s not critical that the base plane is precisely level. It can be shimmed if necessary on the sub-surface concrete foundation in Kelso.
Before the end of the day I clear up all the stone waste in preparation for tomorrow’s craning operation. I break larger sections into manageable sizes with the sledgehammer and am about to cut up the long three-metre section taken off a week ago when the carver from next door tells me he’d like to use it to carve a crocodile. I hope he begins soon.
This morning was spent taking off some over-complex sections with the Apu method and I diamond-cut more of the base plane for Hari to pitcher. An attempt was made to lever the stone level with a massive pinch bar and eight men, but not surprisingly, the stone was too heavy to shift. A crane arrived soon after and the stone was chained, lifted and blocked up with waste stone to an almost level plane. After lunch Hari used the traditional Matum method to gauge where the base plane needed more stone off to flatten and level the surface. The Matum involves using three sticks and a piece of string. Firstly a stick is held vertically at one corner and a string passes through a nick on the top of the stick and across the diagonal of the plane to a vertical stick of the same length in the opposite corner. Hari then uses a third stick of a longer dimension with a mark at the same height as the other two corner sticks. By gauging heights along the diagonal he can determine and mark on the stone where the high points are. A further two sticks are similarly held on the opposite corners and again the third stick measures heights and the high points are marked. This rudimentary but effective method will be put into practice tomorrow to flatten the base plane.
Late in the afternoon blacksmithing of all the tools was again needed. The tools wear out very quickly – some in a handful of minutes. I asked Arunachalam if Sandaham who undertakes the main blacksmithing role might make me an Udi Apu (hand pitcher). This is agreed and the operation begins. Tata dropforged tool steel crowbars are used for the entire tool making in the workshop. A length is cut off the crowbar by first nicking it around the circumference of the bar with a grinder and cutting blade. The nicked rod is then laid across a slight hollow in a stone. One sharp blow with a sledgehammer and the 30 mm diameter section is snapped off the bar. The hammer end of the Udi Apu is the first heated to white hot and beaten into a slight rounded taper. The working end is then heated. Sandaham moves quickly outside to a granite boulder with the white-hot tool in a pair of tongs and directs Javaraman to fish tail flatten the tool with a sledgehammer. The roughly shaped tool goes back into the charcoal furnace until it’s again white-hot. Sandaham refines the shape and forms the slightly curved and sloping cutting edge with great dexterity. When satisfied with the shape, he submerges the tool in a bucket of water and allows it to cool. I look forward to trying this tool out tomorrow.
On arriving back at the TTDC accommodation a parcel from Scotland delivered by TNT awaits. Four flush-cutting diamond blades fitted with arbors by Kelso Tool Company, anti-vibration gloves, dust masks and earplugs are all a welcome sight. I was surprised at the almost £100 import tax, but delighted that they’d been delivered safely and within four days.
Everyone worked on flattening the base plane today. Sandaham who was doing most of the diamond saw cutting was very happy with his new dust mask and earplugs. Whilst the team worked on flattening the base plane I pitchered out Apu marks, cut off ledges and sharp edges, worked on the transitions between each shape and straightened up the corner lines. This made a big difference to the overall unity of the block. I am of course working with the form upside down, and hope when it’s turned tomorrow that I’ll continue to enjoy the results of today’s work. The crane will arrive around 10.00am tomorrow. Before that, lines need to be pinged around the base rectangle and the all edges will be straightened with the Udi Apu. I’ve leveled off a piece of ground and hope that when Kelsae is turned twice to rest on this place I will have a reasonably level block to work on. More Apu wedging will be needed when the block is turned and also hand pitchering of the scalloped forms and Apu-marked surface. I hope also to begin the process of forming the slight convex curve tomorrow. The flanks of Kelsae are almost there. I have almost four weeks to work on the curved and honed top, which needs to be perfect.
First job this morning was to Udi Apu (hand pitcher) the pinged lines of the base rectangle and to take out some of the wedge marks on all flanks. The crane arrived soon after 9.30am and the procedure of turning it twice took place to get the top curved plane uppermost. I’m pleased with the overall look of the sculpture now it’s in the upright alignment. Perhaps I should work more of my pieces upside down! Kelsae is now blocked up on wooden batons. The working level is not perfect, but good enough for the purpose of undertaking the remaining Apu wedging and hand pitching on the flanks, and for shaping the top. The convex top form requires a lot of work to get the right curvature and tightness of form. Low points, areas of the naturally weathered skin, a bigger than intended Apu scallop and drill hole are all little issues that need to be resolved. There was a line of drill holes right across one of the long flanks from the outset. Clearly the quarry had intended to cut the 33 tonne block in half at one point. The majority of these drill holes have gone in the process of shaping and reducing the stone’s volume. Two or three shallow drill holes will remain. I’ve been thinking of a number of alternative ways of dealing with these. I could leave them as be, plug them or some of them, or maybe in one, insert an iron ring tethering point. I’ll find a solution that works for Kelsae and the overall concept. As well as trying to make a large cobble-like form, I intend Kelsae to look like a fragment of the landscape. The perfectly honed slight convex top for me is a visual metaphor of the worked landscape. I intend the viewer to get a similar pleasure from the honed curve to that which a farmer might derive from viewing a perfectly tilled field or growing crop. Also, I hope that the viewer’s touch of the honed surface might stir the senses and be reminiscent of the pleasure derived in stroking a prized or loved animal. I have almost four weeks to get the form and shape where I imagine it needs to be.
The quarrymen have returned to their villages and families tonight. Hari has developed a sty in each eye. He says this is heat induced, but the infection must be irritated by stone dust also. Penny has been to the chemist for antibiotic eye drops - hopefully he’ll be much improved on Monday. The young lad who was hit by a car is still in a coma. The prognosis now sounds like brain damage, which he’ll not recover from.
Sunday 17th November 2013
Following cataclysmic rain overnight the sun comes out and a blistering heat dries everything up almost instantly. Stone shards scattered around Kelsae are hot to the touch. In the morning I re-draw on the stone checking all my co-ordinates and decide which areas need to be removed for tomorrow’s work. The low area occurring where a scallop of stone came off as a result of a natural cooling vent on the end of Kelsae is a priority to resolve.
The two stone clearers Batma and Swndri are here again clearing the fallen stone amassed around Kelsae. The strength and stamina of these women is astonishing. A coiled length of jute sacking or cloth called a Kumadi forms a pad on the top of their head and continuously they carry heavy weights all day. The women have infectious smiles.
Javaraman hasn’t returned yet. I hear he’s taken his wife to Chennai for an injection. I wonder whether the previous week’s work has enabled him to pay for this. I learn that I was mistaken – he hadn’t gone to Kerala last Friday. His son was going there on a pilgrimage to pay homage to his Hindu God in one of the temple shrines. He simply needed to bid him farewell.
The day is spent wedging off scallops to tighten up surfaces, resolving the errant end of Kelsae and undertaking diamond sawing on the top surface. I decided not to do anything further on the top until the flush cutting discs arrive from Scotland. Pitching off the cuts is now getting too near to where I imagine the finished surface will be. I’m aware of the danger of going too far and overworking this unruly stone. There’s a need to find the form but also a need to keep the stone’s vitality and tempestuous character. It’s a fine line.
Tomorrow just before lunch the stone will be turned with cranes to level the base. Also to get rid of a mass of material from the bottom half of all flanks. The quarrymen will find their efforts more productive when chiseling and Apu wedging into more substantial meat.
Javaraman is back and the whole team Apu wedge and pitcher before the cranes arrived at 1.00pm. The stone clearing girls have all the waste stone and general detritus removed and the stone yard looks spacious and tidy. Ravichandran the chai seller comes with tea as normal and Stephen Cox is back working on his piece after spending a week in Delhi and Calcutta where he represented the British Council at the laying of a foundation stone for a new Art Museum designed by Hertzog de Meuron.
The cranes arrive and the stone is chained and wire roped. Two cranes coordinate and push the stone onto its side. One crane then drives into the yard and pulls the stone towards it – thus turning it once more to put the base plane uppermost. At one point the crane boom is literally four inches from the non-insulated main power lines from Chennai to Mamallapuram! The crane itself also seemed precariously near to being crushed by final rolling of the block. After a successful operation you acknowledge that these guys know what they’re doing and are expert at it.
I’m astonished by how much stone still needs to be taken off. I ask myself, has the allocation of two months to complete this stage of the project been a bit over ambitious? After lunch everyone works really hard following my drawn co-ordinates. By 5.00pm I can begin to see the edges of the bottom plane emerging and a relationship with the other faces is taking place. I hope to have the base plane roughly leveled in the next two days. Everyone appears energetic and re-vitalised with the turning of the block.
This morning I was delighted to be asked for a face-mask by Sandaham who, along with myself, is doing all the diamond saw cutting. Is this a small step towards everyone eventually becoming aware and taking remedial action by using Personal Protective Equipment (P.P.E) when working with hazardous dusts In India? Two of the three large angle grinders are not working this morning. Kumar who is Stephen Cox’s assistant takes me to Mamallapuram and the repair shop on his motorbike. Whilst the grinders are being fixed I try a number of shops to buy dust masks but nobody stocks them. In an area where there might be more than 1,000 people involved in the stone carving industry and most of them creating fine dust by now primarily using diamond saws and grinders this is shocking. I eventually find some surgical masks in a chemists and buy these for the workers until I get a supply couriered from Scotland.
Today everyone worked extremely hard and in a well synchronized manner. Sandaham and myself undertake the diamond cutting. Ramachandran, and Jayaraman pitch off the saw-cuts with sledgehammer and big pitcher. Hari and Murugeshan use chisels and hand-held pitching tools to find corner levels and clear the edges for Apu wedging. By the end of the day a broad and level draft is created on one of the ends and Jayaraman is already making chisels holes for the first of the Apu wedging tomorrow morning. We seem to make considerable progress. I look forward to flattening all the edges tomorrow for more Apu wedging on all flanks.
When I arrive this morning Sandaham has already put saw cuts in some of the meatier sections of the waste material on the base plane. Hari and Murugeshan are hand pitching, and Ramachandran and Javaraman are making Apu holes. The trestle scaffold I had made is proving very useful and is just the right height for working from. Whilst diamond saw- cutting with Sandaham another of the grinders packs in and Emeri who is the workshop storeman takes it away for repair. The cooling fan has disintegrated which results in the need to replace the whole armature assembly. Some of the team re-sharpen and temper all the tools in the blacksmith’s workshop. Ramachandran is preparing for Apu wedging on one of the ends. The pitching hammer is firstly used to take stone off to protect the corners and when the Apu’s are used a substantial scallop of stone is broken off. All of the edges of this end plane are now clearly defined. Stone may still need removing from this end, but I’m not sure. At this point I remember the story of the grandmother talking to her grandson about buttering toast. ’Take care of the edges and the middle will take care of itself!’ I decide to leave the end form as it is meantime.
In the afternoon the team work exceptionally well and take off two large scallops that must weigh half a tonne on one of the long flanks. We make wonderful progress today.
This morning a fierce heat forces us to rig up a canopy over the stone to provide some respite for the workers. The final two sides are roughly leveled and a line with red ochre is pinged to show where the Apu wedges need to be inserted.
Javaraman and Mrugeshan are sharpening and tempering chisels and pitching tools and also making more Apu wedges to try and take the remaining long side of waste off in a single piece. I undertake some diamond sawing and Hari follows with hand pitching. Ramachandran wedges off a substantial scallop and before lunch is almost ready to take off another section. At this point I notice his foot that was cut last week is swollen and on checking I see the cut is suppurating pus. He tells me he’s going to the hospital for an injection tonight. I insist he goes now. He’s reluctant to do this until the section he’s working on is wedged off. I film this process and a big lump successfully comes off the block. It’s now nearly lunchtime. Ramachandran has a quick wash and Sandaham takes him to the hospital on his motorbike.
Ramachandran is back working in the afternoon after getting a penicillin injection and a newspaper sache of tablets to take for the next few days. In the afternoon everyone except Hari who is the hand pitcher, Apu wedges. One complete side has Apu holes chiseled out and with the new Apu wedges made this morning the piece is broken off in one long three-metre section. I film the process. For what remain of the light (it’s dark by 6.00pm) the quarrymen chisel Apu holes, and carefully hand pitcher off at the corners. I ping a few of the co-ordinate lines with the string dipped in red ochre. We’ve had a very productive day with a mass of stone taken off, and the overall form of the block is emerging nicely.
In the evening Judy and Stephen Cox and Penny and I go out to visit a new amazingly good Shell Museum on the outskirts of Mamallapuram and afterwards we have dinner nearby. The day is marred a bit by seeing the result of a traffic accident and the rag doll of a male figure lying in the road.
This morning nobody is around at the carving yard. We learn that last night’s accident was a relative of Sandeman’s who was watching us Apu-wedge in the yard yesterday afternoon. He’d gone down to Mamallapuram on his motorbike to get some drinks at the off-licence and had been hit by a car when walking across the road. He was pronounced dead at the scene by the traffic police and taken to the morgue. In the morgue signs of life were detected and he was rushed to hospital and then transferred to another hospital in Chennai. With broken limbs, head injury and internal bleeding. He apparently has a 30% chance of survival. All of the workers have gone back to their village.
The yard is eerily quiet. I diamond saw and hand pitcher off sections of the waste on the uppermost form that will eventually be the base of Kelsae and with a sledgehammer break large sections that were Apu wedged off yesterday for the stone clearers to remove. I miss the input of work from the quarrymen, but miss their company and cheery banter more so. I’m not sure when they will return.
Arunachalam’s stone yard was in need of a tidy up to get a crane in to lift Stephen Cox’s sculpture vertical last Friday.
The two female stone clearers who undertook the tidying up are back again today carrying waste stone blocks on their heads or in shallow Wok-shaped circular pans. A man helps them break the larger scants, and helps lift the blocks onto a circular pad on their heads. The waste is carried 30 metres or so to the back of the yard where it’s dumped in a wooded area. These women are infectious characters who like a laugh and have moved almost 3 tonnes of waste in two days. A small cobra is discovered by one of the women and Ramachandran despatches it.
Two large scants were Apu-wedged off the side flanks today. A natural volcano cooling vent occurring on one of the corners was a nuisance and threw the levels and shape out. The corner had to be removed resulting in a lowering of the uppermost form by approximately 75 cm. When cleaving with the sledge-hammer, a splinter of stone cut Ramachandran on unprotected toes. Penny administered her nursing skills to iodine and bandage the small injury. One of the Apu –wedged scants cut into the stone a little more than desired. This may affect the top curvature.
A day of encountering and trying to solve little problems!
A large amount of stone needs to be removed on both of the bigger flanks. Ramachandran and Arun suggest diamond-sawing a ledge into the flank to create a level plane for Apu wedging as the speediest and most effective way forward. I was skeptical but reluctantly agreed to trial the method. The stone didn’t like the intrusive mechanical cut and the resulting flaked form appeared unnatural and over bitty formally. I didn’t like the result and although the process of shaping will be slower, decided that only the Apu wedging method will be used to form all of the stone’s flanks. Diamond sawing will be okay on the topmost form as a prelude to creating the convex form and also for flattening the base plane. The stone is very hard and unpredictable at times but that character is not lacking in individuality. The Apu process is slow, but it feels right to work with the nature of the stone and traditional skills of the Tamil Nadu quarriers. I’m realising that I need flush-cutting discs to properly shape the top form and these aren’t available in India. I will contact Bill Donald at Kelso Tool Company to make what I need and have these couriered to India asap.
Sandahman and Murugeshan are away home for two days.
Sandahman ‘s sister is getting married. He’s the best Apu wedger of the team and is a very good blacksmith who re-sharpens all the tools most days. Murugeshan’s uncle is undergoing an operation and he must also go and visit him in hospital. The team is depleted by two.
At lunchtime I phone Kelso Tool Company and make arrangements with Bill Donald for the diamond discs I need to be prepared with flush cutting arbors and have these sent to me.
I visit the carver in the next workshop to Arunachalam’s and watch him letter-cutting a tombstone by using a die grinder and various diamond attachments – some of these are made in India and others in Germany. The small diamond wheels look ideal for following the curvatures of individual writing styles in this hard material and I decide I will use this method as one of the ways of inscribing in Kelso in the Spring of 2014. The carver also tells me that unwanted chisel and wedge marks on the Kelsae stone can be sprung off by applying heat. I’m aware of granite being flaked with oxy-acetylene and will try this on the stone at the finishing stage.
Today the stone doesn’t seem to progress much. The Apu wedging results in only removing small flakes. The protruding belly of one flank is being worked and the bulging surface provides no substantial ledges for Ramachandran and Jayaraman to get the Apu wedge effectively working. I decide to narrow one end of the stone to resolve an over deep scallop that has occurred – this stretching into a section of the top plane. This is undertaken with a big pitcher and sledge-hammer. The corner of the stone breaks off and looks out of alignment. I’m a little disappointed with the outcome, but tomorrow is another day.
Ramachandran and Jayaraman continue Apu wedging on the bulging flank and I diamond saw cut the top plane to begin to feel a level and curvature. Hari uses a small pitcher to break off the saw cut sections I’ve made for him. The top plane is the weathered surface of the block and has probably been exposed to the elements for millions of years. It has a skin 25 mm or so thick and is a different colour and in places more friable. I stand on the block and cut grooves to reduce the high points nearer to a mean level. The cutting posture feels awkward. Before lunch I draw out a trestle shape which I intend to ask Arun to get the carpenter to make two off to provide me with a level platform at a comfortable height to work from. Balancing on stools and wobbly bankers simply isn’t safe when using a grinder with unguarded 10” diamond blades.
At lunchtime I also sketch out foundation cross sections and e-mail these to the engineer, planner and Colin Gilmour at SBC for information and comment.
By the end of the day (5 pm) the bulging surface is improving and Ramachandran and Jayaraman seem to have found a way of combining the Apu wedge and pitchers to simplify, tighten up and reduce the bulging shape more quickly. More wedging off and cutting to be done tomorrow. Soon the stone will need to be turned to let the team get busy leveling off the bottom plane. This will give access to large sections for splitting off with the Apu wedge. Today I can begin to see the shape evolving again.
Sandaham has returned from his sister’s wedding and Murugeshan from visiting his uncle.
This morning I decide to reduce the width of one end of the stone to sort out the broken corner and also cut parallel lines to take in the offending deep scallop. I’m now happier with the overall shape that has transpired. Also this morning, the carpenter arrived to discuss the trestles and batons I need to make the topmost form. It’s evident that a trestle is a new concept and it takes a little explaining and drawing of diagrams to explain what I mean. He brought the required wood supply to the yard in the afternoon and will make the trestles tomorrow.
The day was occupied by four guys Apu wedging and Sandaham pitching off the diamond sawing I was undertaking on the top form. A natural crack is evident on one of the ends in a place that could be problematic for the overall shape. Fingers crossed this isn’t the case. Tomorrow we will cut down to the level and explore how far the crack travels into the block. If need be, this area may need to be pinned and glued. Tomorrow afternoon it’s possible that the block will be turned to get access to the bottom face for rough leveling and Apu wedging off the substantial flakes of waste that remain on the bottom of all flanks. I’m beginning to think that a further two weeks with a full squad of five men will be needed on shaping the block before seriously embarking on the curved and honed top form.
Ramachandran is in the wars again with a fragment of the point of a chisel flying off like shrapnel and into his belly muscle. Like a wood splinter, it will come out in time. Because I wear safety boots, goggles and mask I imagine they consider me a bit eccentric and over cautious! I brought masks for all of them but they decline my offer and don’t wear either glasses or protective footwear. The shards of stone can be as sharp as glass and they walk barefoot on them all day. The soles of their feet really must be as tough as old leather. I enjoy working with these guys immensely and I sense a mutual respect courses between us. Every day in the morning and afternoon the Chai seller comes on his bicycle with a stainless steel cylinder of tea strapped to the back and carrier bags with biscuits and cake. One of my jobs is to provide this sustenance for the quarriers twice daily.
On arrival at Arun’s workyard the carpenter (they don’t use the word joiner in India) is busy making trestles under the protective canopy of the office building. In between very heavy pulses of warm rain the carving team continue to Apu wedge, diamond disc cut and pitcher off stone working towards finding the planar forms and curvilinear top shape I’m looking for. The natural vent on one end of the stone has been explored and removed back to the solid mass. I think I can solve this area with minor adjustments to the meeting point of the end and top plane. Jayaraman has left early today to attend a family function in the south of India in the state of Kerala. The morning is continually interrupted with torrential downpours. I’m reminded of a thunderstorm in a Scottish summer. The Kelsae stone is washed clean of dust and the dark grey colour when wet is bonny. It will look like that in Kelso on many occasions. In this South Indian Winter the stone remains like a hearth stone, warm to the touch. When it gets to Scotland I think this stone will get a coldness that it will never have experienced for millennia.
After lunch the monsoon reaches torrential proportions and it’s pointless for the quarriers to continue. They finish early at 3.00pm and return to their families.
The trestles are made and I now have a robust scaffold to work from. On Monday pm the stone will be turned by the cranes to access the bottom face for flattening.
The form evolves further and when I think we’ve been at it for less than two weeks, the stone has progressed very well.