Hi, my name is Alistair Park and my company Alistair Park carvings was established nine years ago, however I have been carving for well over twenty years. I decided to start my company so that I was able to make interesting things and make a living through doing so.
The stories that are carried by objects fascinate me. Wood usually has the story of the tree itself carried in the rings. The tools that I use to carve it are frequently over a hundred years old, many with previous owner’s names stamped onto their wooden handles. Then there are the stories that have influenced the design itself and those that arise during the making. Carving is sometimes a slow process and I think that it lends itself to appreciating these narratives.
Some other carvers inspire me, including the often-anonymous carvers of African and Papuan wooden masks and Japanese netsuke (toggles used to hold purses into the sash traditionally worn with a kimono). I enjoy taking on commissions because of the interesting new avenues that researching them often leads me down.
I’m pretty much self taught, although many people along the way have guided me. My first carvings were produced using a pocket knife whilst travelling around doing short-term jobs.
I did go to art college to study design after I’d already been carving for eight years. The library there was a great resource to have access to but the main thing that they taught me was the importance of focussing on making good work, above passing fashions. Not that this attitude always endeared me to my tutors!
I love the ‘do it yourself’ culture in Bristol. If you want to do something, it feels like this town gives opportunities to try and make it happen. It’s certainly the first place that I’ve ever felt it was possible to be a professional woodcarver.
I was also very lucky to become involved with the Forest of Avon Products cooperative when starting out as a professional carver. It’s a not-for-profit organisation; basically a collection of individual businesses in the area around Bristol who are concerned with promoting the use of locally-grown and/or sourced timber as much as possible. The companies support each other and, from a base at Bower Ashton woodyard, are at the centre of a unique network of timber-related businesses in the area.
There have been so many special moments in my career to date. In the course of making the oak bench on the Downs, I was given two leaves (to copy in carving) that had fallen from a type of tree known only from a single specimen that grows in the Avon Gorge. They were given to me by Libby Houston, who found the tree and who it is now named after – Houston’s Whitebeam. Afterwards I realised that if there is only one tree known, then the leaves must have come from the rarest tree in the world.
Another memorable moment occurred last year, while working on a promotion for the release of ‘Naked Grouse’ whiskey in the UK. I wound up doing a live carving demonstration at a restaurant in Mayfair in London, sipping from a free glass of the best wine in the house whilst beautiful Arabian dancers wheeled around me. Not all commissions are like that!
Particularly touching moments often come when carving memorials for people who wish to remember loved ones. Their reactions when they first see the finished carving can often be very moving indeed.
Some of my sculptures can be seen in public spaces around Bristol. There are carved marker posts along beautiful walks at Jubilee Stone wood near Backwell and at West Tanpit woods near Failand. A large carved oak bench has recently been installed in the children’s playground by the Clifton Suspension Bridge next to the Observatory and there is also the Centenary bench on Stokeleigh camp iron age fort in Leigh woods.
More work can be seen on my website at www.carvings-with-stories.co.uk and I also maintain a blog at www.carvingswithstories.blogspot.co.uk
Looking to the future, I hope I’ll be carving more with lots more interesting stories ! I’d love to show work abroad; in Japan, China and the US in particular.
At the moment, I’m working on a wall-mounted carving to be installed in the main concourse at the new Southmead hospital. Currently, research is going on into how the carving can be made more accessible for blind and partially-sighted people who are patients and visitors to the hospital. Woodcarvings always seem to want to be touched and it’s very exciting seeing where this avenue leads…