The most asked question by visitors to a sculptor's workshop is the next: 'And what if you're nearly finished, and you accidentally hit that nose and it comes off…?’ (or that hand, or finger, or little protruding part, and so on). My colleagues and I have heard that question so many times, that sometimes we got a bit fed up with that. Then we said with a dead serious face: 'Yes, that's always the problem, right, that you hit the nose and it comes off. That used to be so in the old days. Just look at all these ancient Egyptian statues, these also have always the noses broken off.’
You do not always want to explain that in many cultures a temple sculpture had to be absolutely intact, and that otherwise it would be unfit for worship. That the Egyptian images originally would have been crisp and whole. That Islam was introduced later in Egypt, and that in that faith it is an abomination to venerate an image of human or animal. That conquerors not always had the time to quietly smash the statues to bits, especially if those were twenty meters high or out of rock hard diorite. Makes sense that they then settled with the nose. 'Who violates his nose, violates his face, they say in Dutch.’
We have quite recently been able to see how the Taliban blew the two enormous Buddha statues of Bamiyan to smithereens. The faces had been removed already at an earlier stage. Islam points out to man that God can not be caught in an image. I myself always think as well that our attempts to even describe creation fall laughably short of their aim, let alone our descriptions of God him (or her, or it)self. On the other hand, God is for man often so elusive and big, that in other cultures an image is used to find access to God through tender devotion. For both of these two views there is a place, and therefore it is very unfortunate that the Taliban in this way were trying to impose their views on others. I'll just leave it at that.
Not so much different than our own iconoclasm anyways…
But how come sculptors generally don't smash a hand or a nose at the last minute? The answer is only a mystery to the layman. Sculptors know that this type of hard knocks occur only in the early stages, when the sculpture is still quite solid, and the risk is small. You still have to take care though, because else in the early stages you'd hit it so hard that you'll cause fractures in the underlying rock, where you will get problems with it later. But at that point there are no hands jutting out yet, or noses that can break. When the whole sculpture is roughly carved, you'll go on refining further. From that point you will work with increasingly lighter tools and remove smaller pieces, until you get to the stage where you're finishing the details. By that time, it is absurd to still attack the statue with hard knocks. Only quite at the end you will remove the suppports you had left to support the vulnerable parts. You just need to be careful when grating, to not accidentally move your grater like a lever when you're grating somewhere in between parts.
We pulled a joke on visitors at other times as well. If we saw that they were going to ask questions about the stone dust, like if it wasn't unhealthy, we secretly took a hand full of grit and dust. And when they looked our way, we would ostentatiously cough in our fists, making it seem like a great cloud of dust came out of our lungs.