LISI ASHBRIDGE - LETTER ARTIST
'First Sealing Stone in a long, long time'
During Open Studios in 2014, I was approached and asked whether I would be interested in designing and cutting the first sealing stone to go into the All Cannings Long Barrow. Tim Daw (www.thelongbarrow.com), our local landowner, has fulfilled his life-long ambition and built the only modern long barrow in the UK, here at All Cannings, using Neolithic building methods and materials, resulting in a resting place with a sacred atmosphere. A long barrow is a place where cremated remains in urns are kept in individual niches, which are then sealed with an engraved stone. It is open to anyone, irrespective of religion or beliefs.
Since the long barrow was being built at the end of my village, and is made of beautiful Cotswold stone, in a traditional manner – I naturally had been curious and followed its progress. But that is as much as my knowledge about the Neolithic burial grounds takes me. So I started, and have not advanced much as yet, at the very base of a steep and fascinating learning curve about ancient traditions and symbolism. I will therefore tell you about my experience and not pretend to be an expert on the subject of such traditions.
I design and carve letters by hand with a simple chisel and a mallet into various types of stone and slate. Most of my work is for home and garden art. I do not use computers, fonts, or any electrically powered tools. Just as in ancient times.
For each job, I work on a design where I draw letters by hand which reflect the message or character the client wants to portray, where the letter shape is suitable to be cut into the type of stone used, where the lighting conditions which are available when the stone is going to be finally fixed are taken into consideration, where the spacing between letters are studied (e.g the R and the A are ‘holding hands’), and of course the overall look has to be natural and pleasing to the eye. Every piece of work I prepare is made with detailed consultation with the client; a partnership, to create a unique and very personal statement.
My client, Adrian Gray, whose wife sadly passed away last year after her battle with breast cancer, has a great interest in Neolithic symbolism and its traditions. He explained to me that his late wife loved the hills here in the Pewsey vale (including the original long barrows for which the area is famous) and that he wanted me to capture the symbolism of the hills, which are referred to as breasts of the Alton Goddess and the serpent energy his wife represented. In addition, he wanted me to include a crescent moon which signifies the moon goddess Diana, an anagram of his own name and with whom he had a personal connection in a previous life. So the design was to incorporate ‘The Serpent and The Moon’ in combination with the family name ‘Gray’. The family name is placed below the symbol to indicate that one rests in peace below moon and the hills.
I used a Cotswold stone (shaped, prepared and fitted by Sam McArthur of Ramsbury Stone Masons) to match the building material of the long barrow and by using a relief cut method for the symbolic motive and traditional v-cut lettering, the shadows of the candles bring the design to evocative life, just as in ancient times.
I wanted to keep this powerful, personal message very simple and let it speak for itself, especially considering the surrounding the stone was going to be set in. Beautiful, traditional - simply emphasising a sacred and totally beguiling final home.