Spirit | Stone

My Thinking Hand

By Nick Gilmore

Published: 17 Jan, 2023

Back in 2014 I visited a retrospective of sculptor Barbara Hepworth’s work at Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal. Deep in the exhibition I found this quote (which I hope I’ve transcribed accurately)…


Barbara Hepworth

My left hand is my Thinking Hand. The right is only a Motor Hand. This holds the hammer.

The left hand, the Thinking Hand, must be relaxed, sensitive to the rhythms of thought that pass through the fingers and grip of this hand into the stone.

It is also the Listening Hand. It listens for basic weaknesses of flaws in the stone; for the possibility or imminence of fracture.

This put into words the feeling I had had since starting my journey as a carver.

Carving involves almost every sense. The feel of the resistance of the stone and the heft of the tools in your hand. The sight of fresh, clean cut marks in your piece which would be famliar to every carver going back to antiquity. The sound of metal striking metal and metal striking stone. Even the sense of smell is involved sometimes. Portland limestone was formed on the bed of a shallow, sub-tropical sea during the late Jurassic period some 150 million years ago. A freshly cut face releases a smell many say is the smell of the sea. In my experience it’s slightly oily but it definitely smells of the sea.

Hepworth’s point about Listening is extremely important. Stone is a natural product and it isn’t entirely uniform. Listening to what the stone is doing while you work on it can warn of impending disaster and can give you time to avoid or take advantage of a hidden fault. Personally speaking it’s one of the major benefits of working with hand tools. I can’t see how you would get any feedback when power tools would drown out any nuance in what the stone is saying. That’s vital to me as I am learning. And I will always be learning.

The sound of a busy workshop is a transcendental meditative experience. It’s the most effective treatment for depression I know.

Image Credit

By photo©ErlingMandelmann.ch, CC BY-SA 3.0, commons.wikimedia.org

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