Tag Archives: bed

Trinity

12 Nov

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Yggdrasil – the World Tree of Norse Mythology – traditionally a gigantic ash, is the tree upon which Odin hung in his never ending quest for wisdom. He drank from the stream which courses beneath the roots of the great tree and he lost an eye in payment. Mimir is  literally ‘The Rememberer’.

I made this bed as a commission for the generous and thoughtful mother of a beloved daughter and her partner as the seal upon their hard won quest to design and build their own home. The bed frame is made from a very old and spalted Fraxinus excelsior or European Ash, and the posts and book matched laths of the head board are derived from a huge yew tree which had languished in a stack of 4 inch boards in a builder’s garage in Beighton for many years.

When I consulted the family of three, the daughter requested that I carve a celtic knot – also known as a Triquetra – in the foot board.

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The triquetra has a well known modern Christian resonance: Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and in ancient Celtic and neo-pagan traditions representing the Sacred Feminine – the three ages of woman: Maiden, Mother and Crone.

My Mam a single mother in the 1960’s and 70’s used to say that together, she, my brother and I were invincible because we were a ‘three’. She believed that the number 3 had immense power.

Pythagoras taught that 3 is the first true number because it forms the first geometrical figure, a triangle. Odin’s valknut, a symbol of three interlocking triangles is a symbol of great power and significance in Viking Folklore. This one is carved on the Stora Hammars Stone on the Swedish Island of Gotland and it is intimately associated with the All Father.

valknut-stora-hammars-iIn the words of historian H.R. Ellis Davidson, “Odin had the power to lay bonds upon the mind, so that men became helpless in battle, and he could also loosen the tensions of fear and strain by his gifts of battle-madness, intoxication, and inspiration.” She and others interpret the Valknut, with its knot-like appearance, as a symbolic expression of this idea (Ellis Davidson, Hilda Roderick. 1964. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. p. 147.).

To carve a Triquetra, one has to first draw three interlocking circles to form the outline these are also known as ‘Borromean’ rings (after the Italian family Borromeo’s coat of arms)

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And then you can get down to the business of carving…

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…which involves repeatedly stabbing vertically along the outline of the motif and then gouging into the wood toward the stab line. This takes a lot of concentration, especially when one has already made the foot board as a single modular piece.

Carving directly onto a completed piece of furniture requires concentration and what we might call ‘bottle’ or courage. I learned from my client that her daughter and co-owner of the bed is a hand surgeon – I can think of no greater need for bottle than when working to repair that quintessentially primate character, the hand. The hand is my instrument, my means of expression and so I decided to go for broke and carve straight into the finished head board out of respect for my clients.

Speaking of bottle my younger brother Simon who lives in San Francisco and is both a master carpenter, music maker and brewer of fine Pale Ales might approve of this Trinity – it is perhaps quite apposite for us Littlewood brothers.

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It appears on an American IPA, Ballantine and is of 7.2% alcohol by volume – potent!

 

 

 

 

Odysseus

19 Jul

Iliad and Odysey

‘Aphorism’ – a word first coined by the Greek philosopher Hippocrates (he of the medical oath) is by definition a ‘delimitation’ – an astute, often funny and therefore memorable distillation of a general truth.

“A professor is someone who talks in someone else’s sleep” W.H. Auden

“Death is the sound of distant thunder at a picnic” W.H.Auden

“Some of the biggest cases of mistaken identity are among intellectuals who have trouble remembering that they are not God.”  Thomas Sowell

Or on a more practical note:

“Measure twice and cut once”

The mantra of woodworkers and builders everywhere, avoiding waste of costly materials.

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This is an uncomfortable but honest portrait of me, taken by the very talented film maker and photographer Robert Twigg.

It reminds me that our actions and emotions can rarely be so elegantly circumscribed as in an aphorism. They are not delimited at all but subject to the temptations of the seven deadly or cardinal sins: Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride. This image would be a good one for wrath, but my particular vice is the sin of pride.

“Annabeth: My fatal flaw. That’s what the Sirens showed me. My fatal flaw is hubris.
Percy: the brown stuff they spread on veggie sandwiches?
Annabeth:No, Seaweed Brain. That’s HUMMUS. hubris is worse.
Percy: what could be worse than hummus?
Annabeth: Hubris means deadly pride, Percy. Thinking you can do things better than anyone else… Even the gods.”
Rick Riordan, The Sea of Monsters

As a school boy I was given a fantastic school prize for English – Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, the epic poem about the Greek Heroes of myth, the capricious whims of the Gods and the epic Trojan Wars. I have to admit, in reading these stories I developed a particular soft spot for Odysseus, the cunning sailor, leader and architect of the device which he built as a gift for the Trojans and in which he hid with a strike force of warriors. The wooden horse was taken behind the Fortress walls by the unsuspecting enemy, thinking it a peace offering, whilst the rest of the Greek navy sailed off. Odysseus and his heroes emerged from the horse and slaughtered the Trojans in the night. It took the Greeks ten years to achieve this victory, after which they all sailed home.

But Odysseus was not so lucky.

On the long return home Odysseus was waylaid by Polyphemus, the Cyclops and son of Poseidon. Odysseus had to use all his cunning to trick the Cyclops in order to escape and then rescue his men. Without wishing to spoil the story for you, I can say that Odysseus’ cleverness succeeded, but, as he sailed away he made the fatal mistake of boasting about his intellectual prowess. He displayed hubris.

Poseidon heard his boasts and cursed him to roam the seas for an agonising length of time never to return home to his beloved wife Penelope. He encountered monsters, sorceresses, strange beings and lost all his beloved friends and companions in this odyssey. A hefty price for over-confidence.

The other day, a lovely Italian couple, Roberta and Lorenzo came to see me to ask me if I could design and make them a bed. As they are both working away from home they wanted a special piece of furniture which they could retreat to at the end of the day and which in the future they could ship back to Italy.

To help me with the design brief I asked them this:

“Can you give me a clue about yourselves so that I can design something special and original for you?”

Roberta said “Do you know the Myth of Odysseus?”

I said “Odysseus was the King of Ithaca, he made his wife Penelope a bed made from a living Olive Tree.” My heart sang with excitement.

Well, to cut a long story short – I got the commission! I was able to come up with a design that they both liked I think, but rather than be over confident I invited them to put their own stamp on their commission. Here is Roberta Pyrographing Etna and Florence (their birth places) on a piece of lace wood (Penelope weaving her tapestry), and Lorenzo (Odysseus) is carving the whorl on his side of the bed.

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The best cure for hubris is humility, because there is no fun in being alone with one’s pride.

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Bed

17 Sep

Tradition

The ancient Egyptians discovered the benefits of sleeping on a raised pallet of earth to get a good night’s sleep away from the cockroaches, scorpions, ants and other nasty creepy crawlies which frequented their dwellings. Tutankahmun had a bed made of ebony and gold. Poor Egyptians had to make do with a pile of palm leaves shoved into the corner of a mud-brick hovel.

Wealthy Romans liked to entertain from their beds, eating, drinking, making conversation, running their households etc.. Beds have been around since Neolithic times and nowadays it is the place we go to rest, regenerate and sleep.

I have just finished building the head and footboards for a king sized double bed. I built the base of the bed from oak and sweet chestnut taken from managed woodlands in Sheffield (the base is not shown). The carved sides are made from local ash (a dragon on the right and a swan on the left) and the head boards from Hyedua – a African hard wood resembling rose wood. The sides of the head board incorporate a poem by Andrew Amaning – written to celebrate the marriage of the couple to whom the bed belongs.

Andrew’s poem is called:  I’m Coming Home

I’m coming home…To your arms that hold me up when I’m weak.

To the heart that I love with every beat.

I’m coming home.

I’m coming home…To the love we make just holding hands

To sleeping on your chest when I’m a vulnerable man.

I’m coming home.

I’m coming home…To fun ‘n’ games and sickly sweet embarrassing nick names

To the one who likes me both cultured and untamed

I’m coming home.

I’m coming home…To my love, my happiness, my peace, my piece of me, my husband, my wife, my life.

I’m home, I’m home.

Bed is home. Home should be sweet. Which is why I have knocked this little fellow up for the European Woodworking Show this weekend, in case there are any new born babies in need of a safe, gently rocking, haven.

cot2 figured ash with larch base

I love making cradles, and I love what kids and parents turn them into as they grow out of them. Planters, toy boxes, magic carpets, or just move them on to the next new sprog.

This one is in San Francisco:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA cherry with coloured carving

This one went to Barnsley…

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200 blue mahoe

This one many years ago for a very posh baby…

Ash Cot ash with drop down sides and turned rosewood fittings

This one for a niece

Cot elm and maple elm and sycamore

And this one a bit of fun for a friend

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA figured apple wood

‘Comme on faict son lict, on le treuve’ (As one makes one’s bed, so one finds it)….. the French 1590 origin of the phrase “Make your own bed and lie in it”