Title: The Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making
Author: David Esterly
Release Date: December 27, 2012
Publisher: Viking Books
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Rating: 4 out of 5
David Esterly was one of the foremost experts on Grinling Gibbons, a wood carver who worked in the late 1600s and whose techniques have been lost to all but a handful of carvers. After the fire at Hampton Court Palace in 1986 that devastated an entire wing of Henry VIII’s estate, Esterly was put in charge of restoring the damaged, and in some cases replacing the destroyed, Gibbons artwork. In this memoir, Esterly chronicles the long restoration process, the politics behind it, and the quiet life of being a wood carver.
A thoughtful look back on a life lived between the abstractness of art and the solidity of wood, David Esterly’s memoir is beautifully written and contemplative, while still providing an eye-opening look at the difficult politics in play behind the restoration of Hampton Court.
Some memoirs are full of action, jumping from one subject to another, always keeping the readers on their toes. These books are definitely entertaining, but sometimes, I’m in the mood for something quieter and softer. Something full of healing words that will allow you to relax into it. The Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making is just one of those books. It’s gorgeously written; reading it feels like soothing music. Esterly carves each of his words much the way he carves wood; with surety, but also making sure that there is beauty in everything.
The story of The Lost Carving jumps around in time and place, but the main thrust of the narrative revolves around Esterly’s commission at Hampton Court. The fire was horrible, and it was up to Esterly to reproduce these priceless works of art. It’s a lot of pressure for anyone, made even worse by the fact that he had to deal with politics every step of the way. It’s so interesting to see what Esterly had to face and how he overcame the obstacles in his path.
But The Lost Carving is more than just an account of a time period in Esterly’s life. It’s a memoir in the truest sense of the word. He reflects on why he became a wood carver, as well as how he works. It’s many different thoughts brought together into one narrative. In the hands of a lesser writer, this book might have seemed aimless and capricious. Somehow, though, Esterly makes it work wonderfully; not only is it absorbing, but it will also make you reflect upon your own life, what you’ve done and what you have left to do.
Not every artist is a good writer, but The Lost Carving makes the reader contemplate the connection between the two; after all, writing is a form of art, and one that Esterly excels at just as well as his own craft of wood carving. If you’re looking for a quiet novel for the soul, then this is absolutely a book you should consider.