Carving Four Dolphins Into New Stone

copying dolphins into sandstone

Four classic sandstone dolphins

damaged old dolphins and new stoneworkSometimes there are those assignments that I dread a bit, because of the high quality work it demands. I'll admit that the next job wasn't easy. I was to copy one of the two early 20th-century dolphins-featuring ornaments that graced the building of the Art'otel on the side of the Prins Hendrikkade in Amsterdam, opposite the Central Station. On 13 January 2020, now more than a year ago, a gas leak burst into flames there. The fire that started as a consequence of that roared up against the facade of the hotel for some time and it especially damaged the natural stone of the exterior, including this ornament. In 2020 all damaged natural stone was replaced by Slotboom Steenhouwers BV from Winterswijk.

Dolphins or just fish?

fountain with dolphins Palace CasertaThis design is very widespread. You ccould find these 'dolphins’ for example along the banks of the Thames in London, in renaissance sculpture in Italy, on vases, fountains and garden benches, and used as gargoyles over a basin, pond or swimming pool. However they don't look at all like dolphins as we know them, but more like fish. They have big round eyes, fat lips, gills and fluttery fins and a distinct fish tail. While, of course, dolphins are smooth mammals without much frills.

After some searching on the interweb I found that dolphins have been depicted so terrifyingly since Roman times (the ancient Greeks came a lot closer), but nobody knows why. I did find an interesting and amusing article, by Donna Zuckerberg↑ (english), but that does not provide a good explanation either. Perhaps the real reason is that it is a lot more interesting to paint and sculpt them in this way? Dolphins are creatures of quite high consciousness. Perhaps the same applies here as it is now: demonize the good, portray it as bad, creating so much confusion that you can take advantage of the resulting fear yourself.

Taking a different approach than usual

block of stone for dolphins, removing unnecessary volumeI next received in my yard sometime in December 2020 a large block of profiled sandstone from the stonemason, out of which I had to carve a copy of these dolphins. This block was made of Polish Rákowicz sandstone. Rákowicz is comparable to Bentheim sandstone, but more cost-effective. This was an exceptionally fine, dense and homogeneous piece, although it had a few ochre smudges in it.

Normally I would put such an old statue on the pre-sawing machine and then start detailing from the sawn copy. But these dolphins were missing many parts, especially their tails. They're also rather small and quite detailed. So I quickly came to the conclusion that presawing wouldn't work. I would have liked to have had the brother of this ornament, which was still intact because it was a few meters further away on the façade. That would have made copying a lot easier. But I was involved too late and this was no longer possible.

Pointing step by step

starting the pointing processThe solution was to approach it in the classic way. I would measure the dolphins point by point and copy them with a pointing machine. This is something I prefer to avoid as it is an excruciatingly slow process, and as you may know by now I have a thorough dislike of measuring and I like to hurry up. But this time there was no escaping: I couldn't find any large shapes that would help me carve the sculpture mainly by eye or with just a few rough measurements. I did cover the original sculpture up with clay, to see if a simple main shape remained within which the most protruding parts fell, but it remained a tricky complex form. I had to simply measure it up in detail and do it step by step.

I started by reconstructing the tails in regular modeling clay. A sturdy rod inside the sculpture was to provide stability for the measuring device. Usually you'd need to make three base points on the original as well as on the block from which the copy is to be made, in which to hook the copying crosswood. This time I couldn't glue on some nuts or drill holes in it, so I decided to clamp some small boards onto it, in which I could fix some torx screws. The hooks of the pointing cross fitted perfectly in the torx heads.

Patience work

The new block with the stonemasonry parts already carved, that I had received from the stonemason, was much too big, so I first started to cut away the excess mass. I could measure that with some compasses. Then I started measuring lots of points on the dolphins, whereby one always works out the highest points first, and then will start shaping the intermediate parts. It's not really difficult work: you just need to keep setting up the pointing machine patiently, check that each wing nut is properly tightened and retract the needle, then transfer the pointing cross to the block of new stone and drill and carve there until you get to exactly 1 single point copied. Ad infinitum. The disadvantage of this method is that it takes a very long time before the shapes start to become visible. It's pretty stupid work actually. And slow work too. But after a few weeks of pointing, the details were all there and I was able to put the dreaded device aside.

I had all kinds of other assignments in between, such as my father's grave, the cornerstones of the Latin School in Nijmegen and a new set of large crockets for the Dom Tower in Utrecht. Fortunately, because pointing is not my favorite job.

Carving by eye

the sculptor ties the sculpture to the palletFortunately, there always comes a point where the sculptor has enough grip on all the measured points to work out the details by eye.. In this type of work, I like to trace a transparent plastic template from the main lines, so that I can very quickly get from the rough shape to a sculpture by transferring these lines onto my copy. After that it was only a matter of copy-carving the original dolphins by eye. I could make the tails from photos. I had deliberately left the modeled tails on my reconstructed parts very rough, because I find it easier to work that out in the stone than spend days fiddling in the clay. As long as I know how big the main volumes need to be, I have enough to start from. With some measurements that the stonemasons had provided me from the other original that was still on the Art'otel, I was able to make a decent copy. The entire ornament was finished with a narrow claw chisel, so I copied that into the copy as well.

four classic sandstone dolphins

Conclusion

pointing processI really dreaded this work because it is quite complex, and because this old sculpture was made with great flair and craftsmanship. I thought it would be a tough job approaching this level. Fortunately, it wasn't all that bad in the end, because what is very difficult at first was made a lot easier by the simple pointing process. That is also the reason that in Italy, for example, this simpler work is often left to the lesser sculptors. The real craftsmanship is done by the master artigiani, who for example can carve the faces, hair, hands and other details to a level that the ordinary carver cannot match. In this case, the pointing machine was a useful but boring tool for me. It was once again clear to me why I am so happy with that copying saw. Imagine that we would have had to measure up all of the 83 (until now) flying buttress statues of the Eusebius Church with the pointing machine, or Thomas Aquinas and Pope Leo the Great… then there would have also been a completely different price tag to such a sculpture, because we could never have made it so fast that way.

Speed ​​and price all-defining

The pointing machine is quite accurate, but as I said, it is a slow process, which would mean for most of the work we do that it would all become too costly. That is probably also the reason that more and more often robots are used to pre-mill the sculpture. The disadvantage of this is that professional knowledge is lost and that the work does not become very interesting if you're only required to finish what a robot has already milled to near perfection.. But usually that is not the most important point for most projects: it always turns out that in the end it is mainly about the cost price.

Gallery

-click at the bottom right of the photos for a full size version-

Beeldhouwerijblog.nl is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well: beeldhouwerijvanvelzen.nl

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Year review of 2020

Strangest year ever

flying buttresses with the ApostlesYear review of 2020? Well that was quite the year I guess! The strangest year that I've experienced until now out of the almost 58, but certainly not a bad year. There were many challenges and throughout everything I've grown personally. We sculptors have probably had it much easier than most other people. We enjoyed working outside, have been sitting in the lovely sun, had plenty of space and because we do our own thing, we have actually not noticed much of the measures, except when we had to do some shopping or wanted to go to a museum.

Production

The old flying buttress statue The Hope made of tuff stone

The old sculpture of Spes, Hope

So what do you do when all the nicer things disappear one by one? Work work work. That was one of the most striking things this year. We've had whole wagonloads of stone go through our hands, and there were lots of nice carving jobs among them. As in previous years, we have been working on St. Eusebius's Church, and we've now arrived at flying buttress statue no. 80 at the moment. We only have another 3 to go, because the last 13 sculptures will not be replaced. There will a new work of art instead. I believe that we will also have to do a little bit of work for that. On my blog you can read about the flying buttress statues that I carved myself last year: the Flute Player, Apostle St. Andrew, the Accordionist, St. James the Lesser, St. James the Greater, Temperantia and Caritas from the arc of the Seven Virtues, and a Goat nibbling on a crocket. I also carved a copy of the statue Spes, Hope, but we were so busy that I forgot to take pictures of it!

face of JamesI did report about our work in an article with a video tour (as a studio visit could not take place due to corona) and in an overview of the last three flying buttresses that were completed: the Seven Sins, the Musicians and Six Apostles. Sometime in October I started working on a double-headed eagle for arch no. 17/18. You can recognize it in the background of some photos, but that project is temporarily halted because other things demanded priority. Likewise, Stide will be carving a lady with a cross (Fides of the Seven Virtues) and Jelle still needs to carve a man with a watering can who's watering a crocket, from arch no. 20.

-click on a photo for the corresponding article-

flying buttress figurine of Flutist 1

Flute Player

side view Saint Andrew

St. Andrew

new flying buttress figurine accordionist

Accordionist

copy of flying buttress statue of James the Lesser in Muschelkalk limestone

James the Lesser

copy of sculpture of Apostle James the Greater

James the Greater

flying buttress statue Temperantia for the Eusebiuskerk in Arnhem

Temperantia

Caritas

Flying buttress figurine Goat nibbling on a crocket completed 1

Goat

three flying buttresses

Farewells

Sculptors Jan and Koen van Velzen rowingIt was an uncomfortable year in another sense too: there were departures. My father and my brother-in-law both died of cancer, but both of them had lived towards the end in such a grand way that we could all find peace with their departure. Especially in my father's case, there was nothing but gratitude. Normally I would go to India again in November, but I haven't had much vacation this year. My beloved Swami Gopala Krishna also left his body this year and even if we could have gone to South India, then everything would have been different anyway.

In August I posted an article about my father's life that I actually wrote in the week of his death, but at the time I didn't have any pictures yet. I discovered that I could have written five more articles about his life, but this blog is not the right place for that. There will be an article about what I learned from him as a sculptor. On 31 October I I installed his sculpture "Surrender’ in the cemetery where he is buried, in Onderdijk.

I am currently working on making his tombstone in dolomite; it will be a lotus flower in relief and some waves. I first had an elaborate design with a graceful lady, but the family opted for a simpler design, and that will work out very nice as well. I hope to get it all installed before 19 January. But it Annual Review 2020doesn't all go as fast as 30 years ago anymore and I noticed that I also need my time to rest physically after a week of hard work. I had made the part with the waves quite deep at first, but it turned out too restless. After I had made everything 8 cm thinner it looked more like the way I had imagined it. At the moment I'm carving the Lotus flower.

Annual Review 2020

Pope and lantern

A number of projects always overlap the year's end, and this year those were Pope Leo and the granite Japanese Lantern for Clingendaal. There are three articles about the Pope Leo statue on this blog: the outline sawing, the first rough carving work and its completion. This statue of Pope Leo the Great is a copy that I carved in Udelfanger sandstone, for St. John's Cathedral in Den Bosch. I was asked to assemble this new sculpture out of two separate parts, which was quite a difficult job, but in the end I managed just fine. It's actually great when a tough challenge succeeds so well. Because this went so well, my colleague Serge asked me if I could repeat this trick for him on a similar one, an angel for the same cathedral. Only this one wasn't so easy: the first block had a big crack. As a result, I have been able to gain a lot of experience in assembling blocks of Udelfanger sandstone.

The lantern for Clingendael park at Wassenaar I carved out of granite, and in terribly wet weather I installed it in the mud in the park. Nevertheless, it is now completely embedded in the beautiful park, hopefully to be admired again next year.

Griffin

In the summer we finally had a bit of a quieter time. Time to move on with the large mirrored griffins. I put the foam model aside and Jelle and I worked together to make clay models of the shield and the body of the griffins. We then encased it in plaster casts and cast it in plaster again. Next will be the carving in Obernkirchener sandstone, for which the large blocks have already arrived. It was quite a large and difficult project, from which we learned a lot.

Read more in the extensive report on this project↑.

frame for griffin

griffin shield in clay 3

modeling of the shield

blocks of sandstone for a mirrored griffin blocks of sandstone for a mirrored griffin

A green lady

Annual Review 2020 seated woman dolomite

One of the commisions that I haven't published on this blog before, is that last summer for another sculptor I carved a sculpture in Anröchter Grünstein (dolomite) out of a large block of stone. Below is a video of splitting the block, that I could almost reach through with my chainsaw. In the picture, the whole sculpture still needed to be polished to a shine.

Ornamental work for the Latin School

ornaments in Baumberger stone for the Latin School in NijmegenAn accident never comes alone, but so it is with workload as well, it seems. Just at the point that I got the feeling that it was becoming an awful lot of work all at once, the urgent project for the Latin School in Nijmegen came in between. But we made it, and in time! All of it was blocks of Baumberger stone with ornaments on three sides, in the style of the Dutch renaissance.

Finials and side crockets, for the Utrecht Dom Tower

detailing new finials for Utrecht's Dom TowerThis year we also got a lot of ornament work done for the Dom Tower. Big, bigger, biggest was the motto. A very large finial of 80 cm wide kept Jelle and me each busy for over three weeks, and then pallets full of large crockets and tailpieces were dropped off, for the upper eaves of the stair tower, at about 90 to 100 meters up.

Annual Review 2020 large crocket for Dom Tower in portland stoneThere are a total of seven of these window frames, each with about ten of these large crockets, so no worries about enough work for the time being. And that's only a small part of the ornamental work on the Dom Tower in Utrecht. An article about this project will follow.

St. Lambert's Church, Veghel

year review 2020 St. PaulThere is one project that I haven't actually shared so far, but that I've already done a lot of work for in the past year. Two neo-Gothic façade claddings will be reconstructed next year at the Lambertus Church in Veghel. Among other things, there will be ten reliefs with scenes from the life of Jesus, two statues of saints and all kinds of ornaments, capitals and pinnacles on it. Jelle and I have already modeled a number of maquettes and carved several capitals for this, made test pieces and I have been staring for hours at vague old photos to see what it might have looked like. For St. Paul I already made a small model in plastiline, that I am going to enlarge in foam. The stone has already been sitting in the yard for a while. Jelle and I are going to do this together, and Jelle will take on St. Peter. There will certainly be a new blog article about this next year.

Small tasks

polishing the lingam

the sanding and 'sweetening’ of the lingam

Fortunately, there was still time for all kinds of small work in between, this year. And so I've been singing Shivabhajans while carving a Shivalingam in black Swedish granite, I've carved two small family crests in a granite headstone, I was asked to repair the Little Drummer with a new drumstick at St. John's Cathedral and I carved a pine cone for an eighteenth-century garden vase and was able to find a few more spare hours to continue working on my red porphyry statue of Pan with the pan flute. I also did a small part of the work on the ornaments of the South Portal of St. Eusebius's Church, but because of the work load, colleague Serge took the lion's share of that part. Finally, in Badhoevedorp, Jelle and I have been working on the repair and reinstalment of the figurines of the Four Seasons.

-click on a photo for the corresponding article-

fine sanding the Shivalingam

coats of arms in black granite completed

Granite coats of arms

repairing the drumstick of the Little Drummer Boy on the flying buttresses of St. John's Cathedral in Den Bosch

Flying buttress figurine Saint John

restoration garden vase lid

Pine cone for a garden vase

Annual Review 2020 garden statue Pan with pan flute- WIP

Pan

ornaments south portal Eusebius Church, in Baumberger stone

South Portal

figurine Spring Four Seasons reinstalled

Spring

Four fishes (dolphins) for a hotel

Then there were the four fish propped up for a façade of a hotel in Amsterdam, that were seriously damaged in a fire. These kinds of ornaments are usually called dolphins originally, although today we have a different perception about these creatures. These fish usually sit mouth down and tail up, sometimes spewing water from their mouths.

 

I am now carving a copy of this in new sandstone; an very elaborate piece of high quality. This is quite a difficult thing for me too, which needs to be exactly similar because its brother is just a few meters away. By coping it point by point I'll gradually arrive at an accurate copy. The chisel traces are still clearly visible on the original, so I'll have to emulate that in the copy. I'll write a full article on this project later on as well.

Expansion

It all got a bit tight under the shelter with all the half-finished projects and the sawing machine and pallets with finished work. So there is a big change going on: the roof, that I installed in 2017 together with my son Joram, gets an extension of 4 metres, and the concrete slabs on which it will sit have already been installed too. The old concrete floor was so uneven that it was almost impossible to drive on with a pallet jack. The new truss is already made, now the waiting is for the roof plates and the extension of the hoistway.

Stelcon slabs have been laid

Heavier equipment

air hammer FK 702.5I also bought a new compressor this year, with an air dryer, because in wet and cold weather it was getting harder to work with air tools and whenever it was freezing, the air hammers and pressure regulators would immediately freeze up. And a nice heavy new air hammer, with a little more kabam in it. I am all set for the new year. Bring it on!

(This annual report only tells you what I myself have been up to this year. But I've cooperated a lot with Jelle Steendam, Stide Vos and Serge van Druten, with whom I share the larger projects. I work a lot with Jelle in particular; he has found a permanent place under the shelter. So have a look at his website!as well ↑)

Beeldhouwerijblog.nl is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well: beeldhouwerijvanvelzen.nl

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A pine cone for a classic garden vase

An 18th century garden vase with pine cone

A small assignment I got last summer was to make a new sandstone pine cone for an 18th-century garden vase. This beautiful vase was made of Bentheimer sandstone, but the pinecone was made out of concrete and it was also very weathered, so now a new one was to be made for it. The lid of the vase also had two damages on its edge, which I would fix as well.

By hand or by lathe?

First I made a new pine cone from a new piece of sandstone, but I didn't get it as sleek as I wanted, and it took me way too long. Whenever you want to make something round by hand, it takes a lot of time, because you have to make a cube first, then you turn it into a cylinder in several steps by making facets, then you have to set up the outline of the ornament in facets, make all that tight, and then you still need to start detailing the ornaments and scales. I didn't like it and started over.

So I started with another piece of stone and turned a nicely detailed copy out of this block on my copy saw. It took some work to set it all up, making a contour tracing, aligning and sawing everything accurately, but it immediately looked much more crisp. After some sanding I was able to continue with drawing and carving the details.

making pine cone in sandstone

Restoration

restoration garden vase lidOnce the pinecone was ready I was able to restore the lid of the vase and attach the cone to it. I started by removing the old concrete pine cone. It was secured with some copper pipes and polyester glue. Then I could glue the new one on top, repair the damage to the edge with restoration mortar and bring everything back to color. I also adjusted the new part to the old color scheme, so that it merges into the whole and doesn't contrast with it.restoration garden vase lid restoration garden vase lid with pine cone

Gallery with pictures of the making step by step

Beeldhouwerijblog.nl is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well: beeldhouwerijvanvelzen.nl

Follow me on Instagram↑
and Twitter↑
and on YouTube↑