Carmen Sculpture

by Peter Boex

If you go down to the woods today or tomorrow or any day soon you’re sure of big surprise a three-metre high sculpture carved in chestnut, located in the woodland garden at Carwinion in Mawnan Smith. The chestnut log, which is 3m by 71cm, was felled by a gale in February 2008 near to the spot where the sculpture is positioned. The tree was an enormous, double-trunked specimen of unusually high quality timber. The majority of it was planked on site and stored for seasoning, leaving the large straight-grained log lying on the ground waiting for inspiration and to be hoisted on to a plinth, its final resting place.

The inspiration for the sculpture came after many ideas had been thought through and rejected. The form of a tall straight trunk is not an easy shape for the creative process. I like to put rhythm and movement into my work and with this in mind I referred back to a previous sculpture, called Carmen, that I had carved in alabaster, of a dancing figure in which I used a shell ribbed effect to represent the flowing garment of a flamenco style dancer. This figure had a very simple stylised face and no anatomical detail. All of these references I have reworked into the maquette of Carmen [The Dancer in the Wood] and during the sculpting process I transferred the one-sixth size maquette into the three-metre sculpture.

The process of sculpting in the initial stages involves chainsaws and power tools, to do what is called the roughing out. As the form evolves so you begin to use different tools. After the power tools you start to use big gouges with a mallet, and the modelling starts, but it is all a long, arduous and physical experience. It is only when you feel the way that the tools react with the wood that you know how the sculpture will work. The finish will show the tool marks of the gouges with some areas smoothed to give a tactile contrast for the hands to explore.

So that I could reach the highest parts of the sculpture I constructed a special staircase on wheels that had a handrail for safety and stabilisers for the rough ground. It proved to be very useful as I was able to move up and down the sculpture and move the stairs in small increments which you cannot do with a scaffold tower. The first cuts were made with a chainsaw this process is quite quick, but you can make the biggest mistakes. After the first day, I had made what looked like a huge impression on the log, the figure was there but in a very abstract form. In the following days the bark came off and I started to carve in some basic detail using a big two-inch gouge which proved to be the best tool for all the rough work.

This has been a weather dependant job and, in retrospect, this January was probably not the best month to choose. I started with a dry frosty week which was all right but then we had a gale which brought a few trees down near by, one of which missed Carmen by about 10 feet, then we had mist and rain topped off with the snow. This all melted forming a river bed on the path next to the sculpture which developed into a not very pleasant muddy quagmire to work in.

The upside has been the beautiful position in the middle of these fabulous gardens surrounded by exotic bamboos, tree ferns, camellias, mature rhododendrons and azaleas and much much more. The wildlife has been surprised on a number of occasions by the intrusion of a sculptor at work with a special mention to my now very friendly pair of robins who will miss my sandwiches and to the squirrels, goldcrests and blackbirds for their walk-on parts. Walkers and their dogs have also featured in my day bringing brief moments of human contact in my otherwise monastic routine.

The finishing of the sculpture can be a long laborious stage when the whole sculpture looks as if it is complete, but there is still a lot of fine carving to be done. It is like building a house: the walls and roof go up quite quickly but the plastering, wiring, plumbing and decorating seemingly take forever to complete. The last parts of the sculpting are done using smaller chisels, by hand or with a light mallet, wood rasps, hand scrapers and then later on, when the surface has dried, different weight sandpapers. Finally I will apply an oil to maintain the colour and grain of the wood. The surface of the sculpture will mature over the years and it is very hard to predict how it will change. There will be cracks and the colour will probably go a silvery grey in the long term but because I have carved the figure with deep fluting I am expecting the light and water effects will result in mosses, lichens, and staining all of which will add a serendipitous patina to ‘The Dancer in the Wood’.

The project has been self-funded but was initiated by the head gardener at Carwinion, Chris Bosworth who invited me to see the fallen tree and then persuaded me to buy some of the wood. In exchange he gave me the opportunity to do a sculpture in the gardens to add to the sculpture trail already existing through the woods. To make the project economical I have had the maquette cast in resin bronze with a verdigris patina as a limited edition of 100. The casting can be seen and ordered at Carwinion from Jane Rogers or at my studio. There has been terrific support and enthusiasm from everyone connected with Carwinion Gardens.

From a very early age I spent long summers with my brothers and sister exploring the Helford river and as the years went by we sailed, rowed, fished and later ventured into the hostelries. With my parents retiring to Mawnan Smith the area has been central to much of my life so it is fitting to have a piece of sculpture close to its banks and beaches.



Peter Boex is a sculptor and carver who has worked in Cornwall for over 30 years. His ecclesiastical work can be seen in Truro Cathedral and in many churches around the county including Veryan, St Endellion, Lanlivery, Breage and Stithians churches. Peter’s sculpture can be seen at his sculpture garden and gallery near Helston or at exhibitions and galleries around the county.

Contact details: email or tel. 01326 563002 or 07974 202 746