Edgar Ward is a sculptor with a background in architectural stone carving. He is currently in the first year of the MA in Ceramics at the Royal College of Art. He works with the tactile processes of carving stone and ceramic to make sculptures about his experiences of nature, architecture, and memory.
I kept a fragment of a sandstone carving that was removed from Southwark Cathedral in London during a restoration project I worked on. The carving is a stylised, almost abstract foliate form that curls up over the mouldings. These pieces of masonry are a part of the building’s exterior fabric. Southwark Cathedral has been rebuilt and restored many times in its long and turbulent history. There is still evidence of shrapnel damage from bombing during the Second World War.
At the end of the second year of my studies in architectural stone carving we had the opportunity to work on a project to replace a string course of over 40 carved “stiff leaf bosses.” We were given a design to work from based on the fragments that remained of the original string course. We were replacing eroded and pollution damaged Victorian carvings, they themselves were replacements of the original 16th century Gothic carvings. When we first observed the Victorian carvings from many meters below, we thought they looked lifeless and crude. However, once the scaffolding was set up for the installation of our new carvings we were able to see the originals up close. These twisting and undulating stone leaves were delicate and lively, while ours felt clunkier and less developed in comparison. It was a reminder of how much we still had to learn from the carvers of the past.
I took the fragment —which was intended for the archives—home with me because it reminds me of my place in a long line of stone carvers and is a symbol of the constant renewal and continuity of human civilisation. The tools that were used to make my interpretation of the design would have been almost identical to not only those of the Victorian carvers, but even the Roman stone masons that worked in London in the 1st century AD. My sandstone fragment is blackened and worn smooth and in my room— removed from its architectural context— has become strange and mysterious.