Welcome to the first 2013 episode of Life Stories, the podcast where I talk with memoir writers about their lives and the art of writing memoir. This episode features a conversation with master woodcarver David Esterly about The Lost Carving, which on one level is an account of the year he spent at London’s Hampton Court Palace in the late 1980s, recreating a wall hanging by the late 17th-century carver Grinling Gibbons that was destroyed in a fire. But the memoir is also a meditation on the creative process, a consideration of the sometimes tense relationship between artists and patrons, and an investigation into how Gibbons achieved some of his technical accomplishments.
One of the things that fascinated me about the book, and that I made sure to talk about with Esterly, was that he had not originally set out to become a visual artist, let alone a decorative woodcarver. His first reaction to seeing Gibbons’ work was that he wanted to write about the artist; then, he says, at some point he hit upon the notion that in order to really understand what Gibbons had accomplished artistically, he should try his hand at carving. When we met, decades after that revelatory moment, Esterly had just opened a brief exhibit of some of his most recent work at a Manhattan gallery, so I had an opportunity to see some of his intricately detailed still lives up close—it drove home another point that comes up during this conversation, namely the way that “realism” in art is often achieved through profound artifice…
If you’re at all interested in making a life for yourself in the creative arts, or around whatever creative practice it is that gives you fulfillment, I encourage you to listen to this conversation and to read The Lost Carving.
Listen to Life Stories #19: David Esterly (MP3 file); or download the file by right-clicking (Mac users, option-click).