What will save the Notre Dame? (2)

-read part 1 of this article here-

A very short time frame (2)

So President Macron has announced that the cathedral should be rebuilt in five years. He has appointed a French general to run the whole operation and there has also been announced that there will be a competition for a new spire. I guess it will become something made of steel and glass, with a modern slightly pyramid-like shape… oh wait, where have I seen something like that before?

All very remarkable. A number of well-informed decisions to be taken are pushed through quickly without discussion or consultation, and deploying the military renders the freedom to bypass a lot of rules. For yes, there will be needed a huge flow of materials (for the roof alone, more than 1300 thick straight oak trees are needed, and wherever would you get these from on such short notice? Fortunately British estates have already pledged to gift a few hundred of those.)

Logistical challenge

The advantage of management by a general is of course that he will be trained in military planning. He will have a thorough knowledge, or have at least access to people who can do it, of huge logistical flows on a scale that is uncommon in everyday life. I don't expect this general to be familiar with all the ins and outs of the restoration of a Gothic cathedral; for that there will be other people . He will be the person to take care of the basic conditions.

There are also huge amounts of new stone to be quarried, which will have to be processed in many different places and all brought to the cathedral at the right time. Luckily it's the right on the banks of the Seine, so just as in previous centuries, the material can be supplied over the water, so the city won't become clogged with trucks. Of course they'll need a jetty for unloading with a crane system and a large storing facility, but the Dutch among the readers know only too well that you can make that space yourself.

France has many quarries that supplied stone for the construction of churches in the past. There is a huge variety of natural stone, from granite, basaltic lava and hundreds of types of limestone to sandstone and gneiss. But not every stone, and not even all stone layers in the best quarries, are suited for church construction. Add to that the fact that currently many quarries have a relatively low production or even lie dormant, it becomes clear that a lot of them will have to be scaled up. Suppose a quarry has excellent material, but there is still quite a thick layer around it of lesser material. It will take some time before this quarry can supply the right material.

And that's not even mentioning the wooden roof, the roofing material, all the windows, all of the sculptures in bronze and stone, all of the ornaments, and where to get all the professionals from. And how they all get there.

The roof of a gothic church

cross-sectional view of the buttresses and flying buttresses

What has been lost now? Most striking is the disappearance of the wooden roof and the central spire. Now the roof of a Gothic church consists of two parts. First there is the stone vault which you can see from the inside, and this is covered by a wooden roof construction that carries the slate or, as in the case of the Notre Dame, the green copper roofing.

Imagine you open a book and put it upside down, like a roof, upon the table, with its pages to the inside. The book will want to sag outward and lie down flat, unless you stop that with your fingers to the sides. It works similar with such a roof: unless you provide back pressure to the sides or add a tensioning bar through the middle, it will want to lie flat. Since no tension rafters were used in the Gothic, but pointed arches instead, the outward pressure had to be taken care of from the outside. In the past, this was solved by building meters thick walls, which made large buildings very dark inside. The genius of the Gothic builders is that they designed open structures that supported the walls from the outside: the buttresses and flying buttresses. The walls therefore don't need to be massive anymore, and allow for huge windows.

At Notre Dame all 1300 wooden rafter beams of the roof have disappeared, and the underlying stone vault below has partly collapsed. A vault is a set of pointed arches that remain in place under their own weight, thanks to that pressure from the outside. The (triangular) spaces between said pointed arches is filled with masonry, so you end up with a stone roof: the vault. If you want to bring back the lost parts of the vaults of Notre Dame again, you'll need to put it back stone by stone. It is a self-supporting construction,, so during the build a heavy wooden support will have to carry the load: the so-called forms.

Once the vaults have been restored, the rafters can be built up again. This can be done with green wood if necessary; that has happened in the past, only one must take the shrinkage into account. I do not know if they do it like that nowadays as well or prefer to use dried oak. I have no knowledge of this work, but it is certainly a huge job to tailor all the wood joints and put them all together on site. Not even mentioning the wooden, lead-lined spire designed by Viollet-le-Duc.

The windows of Notre Dame. Photo by Lionel Allorge – CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

The windows of a Gothic church

Tracery on the Chimera Gallery of Notre Dame. Photo by Parsifall – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In the Middle Ages there was no technique yet to create large glass surfaces. Small panes of glass were made by turning round discs, and then cut to size. To put together all these loose pieces they were encased in lead profiles: hence glass-in-lead: stained glass windows. But don't be mistaken: glass art was at a very high level, both technically and artistically. The large glass surfaces were used to depict colourful scenes of biblical stories and saints. These windows have a wrought iron frame and an often wrought iron cross bar: a tension rod which should give support across the middle of the window , so that the window doesn't flex under wind pressure, and becomes one rigid unit.

The window's frame is made up of profiled natural stone. In fact, the whole window is a combination of stone, iron and glass: long slender stone ribs (bar tracery) divide the window into high vertical sections. At the top of the window, these join together into an ornate stone frame, the tracery, which has many creative shapes. Between the vertical bracing and the stone tracery at the top, the lead frames of the glasspanes are set into the stone notches..

It will be clear that a Gothic window is also very vulnerable. It is for many a wonder that the crown jewel of Notre Dame, its large rose window on the entrance side, has been preserved. Usually, the windows will be completely disassembled during thorough church restorations: all the glass panes are taken out by the glazier, cleaned up, repaired, and set in new lead frames. Often the stone vertical dividers will also be replaced and sometimes even the tracery at the top is copied into new stone, when the stone has deteriorated too much. Also, the iron bridge rods are removed, because they tend to corrode and crack the surrounding masonry. They are usually replaced by new bronze bars. Then often the remaining iron work is then mostly carried out in bronze or stainless steel.

Finally, everything is brought back. I've seen in many churches that the glazier also inserts panes of thick flat glass to the outside, to protect the stained glass and insulate it. However, a stained-glass window is never airtight, so it is extremely important that this front glass can breathe, to prevent accumulation of moisture behind it.

Now Notre Dame has quite a backlog in restoration. So if they want to do this properly, they'll really need to take on all of its windows. By the dozens. Where do you get all these glaziers from? And expert restoration contractors to remove the stone and iron work?

The drainage of a gothic church

gargoyle of the St. John's Cathedral in Den Bosch, copy new sandstone

Traditionally cathedrals have no modern downspouts. The water would have flushed off the roof into a wide stone gutter at the bottom of the roof, often behind a railing so that one could safely walk through the gutter. Later, many of those gutters have been lined with lead to prevent leakage.. Out of these gutters, water had to be carried far away from the walls. For that, there were two solutions: either it ran directly from the chute to the outside, or it was fed further out via a gutter on top of the flying buttresses. The end of the water outlet stood out from the walls for some distance and was often decorated with a monster head: behold the gargoyles. They spat the water out from the walls when it rained hard. Later on, often downspouts were still added, and the gargoyles just remained as a decorative element.

Often a church was topped with roof slate tiles: these lasted for a long time, and water was easily shed (from a slate roof, as is said). But Notre Dame had a beautiful copper roof, that was patinated green. But even a copper roof has a finite life expectancy, and I assume that roof was in need of a thorough inspection as well. Now no longer needed; a completely new roof, roof joists, and partly even vault will be needed.

Natural stone

Baldakijn voor de Sint-Janskathedraal in 's-Hertogenbosch in Udelfanger zandsteen

Canopy for the St. John's Cathedral in 's-Hertogenbosch in Udelfanger sandstone

A Gothic church is mainly built from stone. In the Netherlands, often the core of the walls are made out of brick, with a skin of natural stone blocks. But in France, where so much stone is available, many churches are constructed entirely of natural stone. In gothic architecture, practical construction and decoration go hand-in-hand inseparably with each other. Walls have moldings, where often leaf motifs are carved into, buttresses crowned with high pinnacles which are richly decorated with small crockets, flying buttresses have large leaf shaped ornaments, and everywhere you can see gargoyles, statues of saints, angels, reliefs and ornate portals. As described above, even the window frames are masterpieces of ingenious design in stone.

If in such a large church a hot fire is raging, the stone will become strongly heated. After a long heating with temperatures above 900 degrees Celsius, limestone disintegrates into calcium oxide (quicklime) and CO2. Although the fire at Notre Dame has not everywhere been so hot, it should be clear that the surrounding stonework sufferd severe damage and will partly have to be replaced. The stone in any case is not compact or reliable anymore. In addition, the church also suffered water damage and therefore will be at risk from fungus, and salt efflorescence corrosion in the anchorings, by which the anchors will expand and will destroy the stone later on. Finally, a lot of the stonework has been suffering so much from centuries of weather influences that many parts will have to be replaced.

Professionals needed

Stonemasonry blocks are essentially of an accumulation of geometric shapes. In exceptional cases I sometimes carve some parts of that as well.

For the restoration of such an extensive damage, hundreds of tons of processed stone will heave to be provided. Profiled blocks, blocks which only need a finishing chiseling stroke, sculptural parts, ornamental work, canopies, finials, and so on. The point is, it would take a few months for a stonemason to carve an intricate canopy. What do you do when you need to make hundreds of such blocks? France has far from enough masons who are doing this work at this moment. In addition there are even less highly specialized stonemasons, who can also make the most intricate work.

I expect that much of the work has to be contracted abroad. In France, the workload fell sharply for the stonecarvers by shrinking budgets for restoration. Less work means less stonemasons, it's as simple as that. Likewise, in the Netherlands a veritable bloodletting has taken place among stonemasons since about 2010, when several major restoration projects ended and companies had to let people go because of the crisis and the reduced number of projects. Older stonemasons have also stopped and never been replaced more. And in other countries that has taken place to a greater or lesser extent as well. I myself have been unemployed from 2010 to 2013 and had little work after that, until things finally got better in 2015. If there is such a gap between projects, many professionals will not return to their stonemasonry job.

tiny but very also large ornaments

Now I'm not a stonemason but a restoration sculptor. A restoration stonemason makes all the work that can be scribed with templates and can be drawn with construction lines. A sculptor makes the work that begins where the stonemason stops: ornaments and statues. Of these people, there are even less skilled craftsmen to be found. As far as I know, my three colleagues and I are the only ones still making sculptural work full time for churches and castles in Netherlands. In other countries, there are not many more of those. The French will need each skilled craftsman they can find, to complete this work so quickly.

Digitization of the process

picture of Thomas Aquinas to St. John's Cathedral in 's-hertogenbosch, currently in progress

Now time has not stood still since the Middle Ages. The computer age made its entry, even in traditional restoration. Already, all major stone processing plants own large CNC machines that can perform completely computer controlled cutting and milling. There are big five-or seven-axis milling robots which, with sawblades and routers that they can pick themselves completely unsupervised, can mill an entire sculpture from a block of stone. It seems like the solution. But it is obviously not all so simple. These robots first need prompts. Suppose, I want to copy an existing sculpture. Then I will have to scan the sculpture and enter that information into the computer and edit it into a usable virtual 3D image. Next, the scan should be checked for imperfections and those will have to be removed. Finally, a set of tasks will have to be assigned to the machine, the steps along which the robot can start milling out the sculpture from coarse to fine. In sculptures, or in blocks that are unique, this sequence needs to be repeated for every single block or sculpture. And then the stone block must still be loaded onto the machine and calibrated.

After milling, there are still a lot of details that the milling robot could not finish. It sure saves a lot of work for a sculptor, but here too, the hand of the artisan will still be indispensable. Indeed, unskilled finishing of such a sculpture can still totally ruin it. Stonemasonry blocks can be addressed that way as well, but there always comes a point where it is much faster and cheaper to have the final steps done manually by a skilled craftsman, than letting the robot slog on for days with a needle point endmill. And sometimes the machine can simply just not reach every nook and cranny, where a stone chisel can. In short, the skilled craftsman will still be necessary. And the main argument is that everything looks as dead as a doornail when it's all drawn with the computer and milled with the robot. "It is the hand of the craftsman that has to bring it to life', said a stonemason last all.

-Read more in Part Three: what are the possibilities, where lie the opportunities, what is the future and what will be the rescue of the Notre Dame?-

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Will the computer become the rescue for the Notre Dame? (1)

A disaster with far-reaching consequences

fire Notre Dame

photo by Wandrille de Préville – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

After some time, this will be old news already, but for now, this remains fresh in everyone's memory: a huge fire made the roof of Notre Dame in Paris collapse, on 15 april 2019. During the current restoration a fire broke out somewhere around the base of the spire, which, along with the rest of the roof, burned down and partly fell on the scaffold, and partly on the vault beneath. Part of the ceiling collapsed. All technical terms which I will explain later on. It surprised me how much I was shocked by the first television pictures of the burning cathedral. It is again clear that this is not just any French church somewhere , but an iconic place that belongs to the heritage of the world. Yet it is strange that the fire in this building evokes more emotions than a war or a famine on television. It's ultimately only a material object that was made for mankind. Is the human being then not more important?

A very short time frame (1)

Notre Dame before 2019

Notre Dame before 2019. Photo by Daniel Vorndran / DXR, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

French President Macron announced the next day already that the church will be rebuilt, and even within a period of five years. That's quite a bold statement: for example, for just the Utrecht Dom tower there are also scheduled five years of restoration, and that is in a lot better condition than the much larger Notre Dame. I think that Macron on the one hand could not estimate how very much work this restoration would be, but he must have also thought: "Better aim high and closely miss the target, then target too low and create a lingering eyesore.’ I suspect that most people know how much work has been put into building these cathedrals; often hundreds of years had passed before a cathedral finally was 'finished’ , or something like it.

From a way too tight budget to a huge budget

Now Notre Dame was under restoration at the time of the fire. The whole church needed to be restored, but there was not enough money. At the time of the fire the central tower (the spire) was being restored for 6,8 million euros. Notre Dame is one of the many thousands of monuments that France can boast of, and they all have to share the funding with numerous other candidates which are in equally bad shape, or worse. There also was a lot of maintenance and a first estimate was that a restoration would cost about 150 million euros. That still seems like a relatively low estimate: for the much smaller St. Eusebius's Church in Arnhem (the Netherlands) some 27 million euros were needed (though at first it was thought that 96 million was needed). After the fire in Paris, suddenly a floodwave in grants came forth and the counter is already at over a billion. You'd think that it should be about enough to do the job.

Three restorations in one

Notre Dame after the fire

After the fire. By Louis H. for G. – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

But in fact it's not just one restoration here, but three. Firstly, Notre Dame was hard in need of restoration already. In such a restoration usually especially the roof, the windows and its natural stone are tackled. The problems will then lie with the weathered roofing, rotten wood, worn glass-glass, and the replacement of rusting iron parts Window, and weathered stone parts, broken natural stone and missing parts. Often, the natural stone was also originally mounted with iron pins, which started to expand because of rusting , causing damage to the stonework surrounding it.

Secondly, because of the fire many parts have been lost. The roof has collapsed, a part of the vaulted ceiling has fallen down, the wooden central tower is gone, etc.. That will have to be brought back.

Thirdly, the fire has caused damages to lots of other parts. Stones that have been exposed to a hot fire for a long time can turn to dust on contact. There will also be water damage, and there will be parts that still seem usable but on closer inspection will have to be replaced anyway.

The architect

Such an extensive restoration requires good management. Especially with such a huge budget there will be a lot of people who get dollar signs in their eyes and hope to snatch a handful from the big pot. In the olden days, the cathedral building would have been led by a master builder. Someone who had gone through the whole training of stonemason and sculptor to architect, and knew all the ins and outs. He knew his materials, knew all of the required quality and had enough authority to manage everything smoothly.

It is sometimes said that in any commission three variables apply, and that you can only have two at once: fast, good and cheap. With so much time pressure on it, the last variable already died, and I fear that if not controlled tightly, quality too will dearly suffer under the haste. Menawhile, Notre Dame stands out as a prime example of the extremely high quality of the 19th-century restoration wave.

Viollet-le-Duc

In 1844 the cathedral was about to collapse. A comprehensive restoration plan was led by the then young architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. During that restoration many details were added to the church, which had have never been there before, such as the chimaeras on the balustrades of the two towers. Later critics this would probably like this to be reverted to a stage with more medieval elements, but it should be said that both technically and artistically that restoration was of very high level. Said restoration work, plus the writings of Viollet-le-Duc, have inaugurated in many countries a revival of Gothic architecture: the Gothic Revival. In the Netherlands it was mainly Viollet-le-Ducs admirer Pierre Cuypers that shaped the Gothic Revival. So with this legacy Notre Dame was both burdenend and enriched. It sets the baseline for the quality of the current restoration. You can not put a load of clumsy and inept modern work between the delicate neogothic ornamentry without seriously compromising the church. The task at hand is to do everything to approach that quality and that of the original Gothic work. It will be the job of the restoration architect to maintain a high quality in this.

Mapping it all out

St. John's cathedral, ‘s-Hertogenbosch.
by Zairon – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

The first task will be to chart every detail. What is still left, what is damaged, what should be replaced? From 1999 to 2010 I participated in the last major restoration of the St. John's Cathedral in 's-Hertogenbosch (and afterwards in smaller restoration phases). In such a restoration each facade, every window, each and every buttress flying buttress receives a number, and within those main components each piece of stone regains its own sequential number. Each block is put on a drawing and of each block is known what should be done with it: keep it, replace it or repair it. And that's just the chapter stonework! It may be clear that this requires some tremendous planning. At St. John's Cathedral, since the 90s digital mapping of each facade has been applied. Already in those years, the stone blocks were drawn in the computer in 3D CAD. A good working model and tight schedule should provide the guidance for all labor- and materials flows in and around the church.

Here, the computer can take a first share of the burden: by digitally scanning facades, the recorded data of the inspection can be linked to a database with all necessary data. Details like materials, state of the material, location, dimensions, sequential number and many other things can be stored for each component in the database.

Read more in Part 2 , including the construction of a gothic church, logistical bottlenecks, craftsmen, and more..,

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Thomas Aquinas, part 2: sawing

Thomas Aquinas, part 2: sawing. Two large sandstone blocks

1. Two large sandstone blocks of Udelfanger sandstone: 1 for the statue of Thomas Aquinas, 1 for Serge's angel

Two large blocks

The work on the on copy of the statue of Thomas Aquinas has finally started. I had received two large blocks of Udelfanger sandstone some time earlier: one destined to make two angels out of it and one block from which I had to carve the two parts of the statue of St. Thomas from St John's Cathedral in Den Bosch and fit them together. So the first step was to divide both blocks into two with the diamond chainsaw.

Thomas. Aquinas, part 2: sawing.  I halved the block with the diamond chainsaw

2. The block is cut in half with the chainsaw

Thomas Aquinas, part 2: sawing. Presawing the lower body

3. Sawing the lower body

Presawing Thomas

After that I put one block on my copying saw and started presawing Thomas' lower half. The dividing line of the two parts was meant to be near the line of his hood, so that it will be almost invisible. Reminder: in an earlier post I wrote that the old statue was made from a single piece of stone, in which the layers run vertically. Because it's more desirable that the layers run through the statue horizontally (in that case, there's less chance that an entire big slice comes falling down at once, after weathering) it will be different in this copy. But the quarry has no banks in which the stone is higher than 120 cms. Therefore, the head was to be made from a separate piece.

Because of the large color differences between separate blocks of Udelfanger sandstone I was sent a very large block from which I had to cut the two parts. From this I made the body and the head of Thomas.

Thomas Aquinas, part 2: sawing. Upper body presawed.

4. The upper body was cut from the second half

Thomas Aquinas, part 2: sawing. Rough carving the head and body

5. The head and the body are roughly carved

Fitting together of the two parts

Then, the two pre-sawn parts of the head and body had to be made to fit to each other snugly. That wasn't so easy, because the dividing line doesn't run straight. It follows the wavy line of the hood and needs to be higher at the right hand, because otherwise the joint seam would run through the knuckles. These inclined faces need to fit together well. For this, it should first be clear what will be located where, and for that I needed to rough carve the two parts for quite a ways. I carved the upper body and the lower body so that I could see where it all would be going, and I could see where the dividing line was to run. Then I could find the joint surfaces.

Thomas Aquinas, part 2: sawing. Making both planes fit

6. The joint surfaces are being made to fit

Thomas. Aquinas, part 2: sawing. The head and body are bonded.

7. the two parts are bonded together

Joint surface

Because I made this joint line visible on both pieces, I could demarcate the joint surface and carve away the excess stone. By keeping on fitting the pieces together and scribing the excess stone, I could ultimately achieve a tight seam. When the fit was tight enough, I scribed off where I wanted to put the stainless steel pins and drilled four holes. Two holes in each piece, so I could adhere both parts with strong epoxy glue and two thick threaded rods. Also, the joint plane itself was bonded with a suitable breathable mortar. You should actually never make a horizontally extending closed off gluing surface on a statue sitting outside. The stone above such a dense glue layer can't lose its moisture and will start to rot right above the glue seam.

Serge's angel

Copying an angel for St. John's Cathedral

The other block was halved as well. From the one half this angel was presawn for Serge

My colleague Serge had an commission in Udelfanger sandstone as well for St. John's Cathedral in Den Bosch. He was asked to copy this angel. He had previously made one and asked me if I wanted to saw this one as well. So, here goes.

Read more soon about the continuation of this project.

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The flying buttress of the seven sins

luchtboogbeelden 'De Zeven Zonden' old, arramged in the yard.

We, sculptors

A nice project is coming up soon! As you may know, for a few years now we've been working for St. Eusebius's Church in Arnhem (the Netherlands). Who are we? Well firstly myself of course, Koen van Velzen, restoration sculptor, pleased to meet you. I work with my colleagues Stide Vos, who rents the studio next to mine. And in the past year on this project, our newest addition Jelle Steendam has joined us. He works in my shop space, as an independent sculptor, in consultation with me, on various sculptures.

Seven Sins

flying buttress no. 32 of the Eusebius Church is finished and installed

meanwhile, the first flying buttress figurines of the second series are being installed

We have now completed eight flying buttresses, but there are still 7 more with sculptures on this church. That why I recently welcomed the next series of 7 figurines to my yard, for flying buttress no. 24. The theme of this arc is 'The Seven Sins’.

An interesting theme, that immediately evokes various images to me as a sculptor. For how do you imagine Pride, Rage, or Envy? This kind of thing is very interesting if like me you're a storyteller. Most people may not know me that way, but I love stories.

Fortunately, this series also showed an interesting challenge for the original sculptor. Because what we're about to do with it is copying them. No new designs this time. It's true, three of the statues are missing an arm, but otherwise they're very clear in what they portray.

Broken

The Seven Sins: Lust, a broken old statue of impregnated tuffThey came in, packed in wooden crates and wrapped in netting. The reason for this is a difficult issue, and it's not clear to me what exactly went wrong with these figurines, even after quite a number of discussions. In short: The sculptures of the Seven Sins were carved in tuff around 1955. In the 1990s they started to deteriorate, and to preserve them, they were sent for impregnation with acrylic resin, up to the core. Read here↑ more about this process. It's a good process, albeit fairly expensive, but with these sculptures, something has gone completely wrong. In one way or another they started to expand, and they still do. Lots of deep cracks appeared, and suddenly pieces began falling off. To avoid worse all figurines were quickly removed and stored in boxes. And even inside those boxes they continued to expand and break.

Gluing it all up again

luchtboogbeelden 'De Zeven Zonden' are being glued up by Jelle Steendam in the yard of Beeldhouwerij van Velzen

So the first thing Jelle started on, with my help, was unpacking and bonding of these figurines. The pieces are razor sharp but fit reasonably well. After all the unpacking and gluing we had seven well recognizable sculptures in a row. Next step is to reconstruct the missing parts on the basis of old photographs (so if you have any old photos of the Seven Sins, in particular, of Gluttony, Avarice or Vanity, I hope you'll mail them to me!).

I have been looking forward a lot to make something beautiful out of them again!

luchtboogbeelden 'De Zeven Zonden' old, arramged in the yard.

lust-envy-pride-gluttony-rage-avarice-vanity

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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Finials and side crockets, for Eusebius and Dom Church

finials in Muschelkalk for St. Eusebius's ChurchFinials for St. Eusebius's Church

We are working on the completion of three projects: the first half of St. Eusebius's Church in Arnhem (the Netherlands) is almost finished, the last pieces of St. John's cathedral are completed, and the last crockets for the South Chapel of the Utrecht cathedral are packed and ready for shipping as well. The finials in the above picture are destined for the south side of St. Eusebius's Church. These are fairly simple crockets in French Massangis-limestone, with a post-war era design, but they will contour well with their clean lines. There are only a few of those, and it's indent work: damaged finials and crockets are cut out from the surrounding stone and a new one is inserted at that spot. Tuesday 19 February, I was on the scaffolding at the church to carve another few of these crockets on site. Always fun, such a visit to the scaffolds.

My own pieces were not yet inserted into the church walls, on the corbel of "The Night’ that I carved recently, but it was still completely enclosed between the scaffolding planks. Stides heads in Muschelkalk, however, were clearly visible, a joy for the eye.

Jelle and I started the morning there with measuring the next batch of 7 flying buttress figurines. Unfortunately many of them were seriously damaged. I hope they do not need too much work before they can serve as a model for their copies!

Tuffstone side crockets for the Utrecht cathedral

old side crockets ready for transport- a beaten-up collection

The last side crockets for the Utrecht Cathedral are now ready for transport as well here. It was a fun project: 29 side crockets in tuffstone for the South Chapel, on the side of the inner courtyard, the Pandhof. We divided this work between the three of us, Stide and I carved about 6 each, and Serge made the rest.

With my chainsaw I separated the old side crockets from their heavy background parts, so they can be put into storage. But I must say that these old blocks will quickly erode once they're on pallets at ground level. Apparently they can certainly get soaked atop the church, but they'll also dry up again very fast. Here on the ground they'll stay wet for much longer and the old pieces also suffer a lot more from frost.

Scaffolding visit on Valentine's Day

We're hoping to carve a lot more for this church, sometime in the future. So we've recently already been back again to see the first blocks in place, and on Valentine's Day we were able to look down on a boisterous Utrecht in bright sunshine. The terraces were full due to the unprecedented warm February sunshine, and with an elated feeling we were looking out over Utrecht and the Domtoren across the street. So, bring on that church!

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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Sculpture 'The Night’ for St. Eusebius Church Tower


Last phase of the tower

Work on the tower of St. Eusebius's Church is nearing completion. Actually, the sculptres of The Day and The Night are the last two pieces that the builders are urgently waiting for. So I think a deep sigh of relief must have come from the scaffolds of the church when I completed The Night this week. For the tower, and part of the church, need to be free of scaffolding when a commemoration of the Battle of Arnhem is held this autumn, looking back to, 75 years ago. But this sculpture was not the only thing that still needed to be done. I've been carving away for St. John's Cathedral in Den Bosch, for the the Utrecht cathedral, again for Saint John's Cathedral, and the flying buttress figurines for St. Eusebius' Church itself should be ready in time as well.

Day and Night

This corner sculpture is located at about 15 meters up and was originally carved in tuff by Eduard van Kuilenburg. She's part of a pair: there is a guy with a rooster, breaking his shackles and brandishing a mop (or should it represent a flaming torch?), and yes, this woman with a nest of owls too. The Day and The Night. This lascivious young lady is sitting with the left hand in her hair, on one knee, with a stick in her right hand. The purpose of the stick is not clear to me, or perhaps it should represent an extinguished candle. The owls represent nightlife, the rooster and the broken shackles stand for dawn. I suppose he's about to extinguish the torch and is not going to mop the floor, because he 's not carrying a bucket.

Presawing

This relief is the biggest block from this church we received in the yard in recent years: almost 1 cubic metre. Due to time constraints we decided to use the copying saw, but the block was so large that it couldn't even turn around on the turntable of the machine. I had to literally cut a number of corners to make it fit. These were however just those corners that ultimately will be embedded inside the masonry, so you won't see anything of it later on. This presawing is saving me days of measuring work, by enabling me to start carving by eye from quite early on. Plus it saves me a lot of rough carving and sawing with an angle grinder, freeing me from a lot of the hard work. I glued two stainless steel threaded rods M16 into the top of the new block, onto which I can screw a eye bolt for lifting, making the block easy to move. It may come in handy on the scaffolds later on as well for the restoration masons.

Little feet

The block of new Muschelkalk limestone of over 1800 kilos was provided by the Stonemasonry Firm, who also carved the profiles on it. Unfortunately, the stonemason in question was somewhat preactieve, which caused that I was short on material for the lady's toes. Added to that was that the original sculpture was a lady with a unique anatomy. Her knee was pointing straight forward, but her left foot was targeted towards the viewers at home. So I made a virtue of necessity and right away took the opportunity to give her left foot a somewhat more logical position. The right foot also missed a lot of stone, but I was still able to carve it nicely by putting it more back and in a bit flatter position. If you don't place the original right next to it, it will not stand out at all. It was an interesting challenge and I'm really pleased with how it turned out (See the slideshow below for pictures).

Nest of owls, finish

Near her right shoulder is an owl mother with her nest with two young. The chicks look endearing, with their surprised look.

I finished the entire sculpture with a wide tooth chisel, and then smoothened the body of the young lady with a coarse grater, leaving the chisel marks still barely visible, for a lively effect. Her hair and the owl's feathers I accented with the tooth chisel.

Sculpture The Night by Eduard Kuilsburg- new copy in Muschelkalk limestoneSculpture The Night by Eduard Kuilsburg- new copy in Muschelkalk limestone

Headless chicken

The sculpture of The Day was in a lot worse condition than The Night. The rooster and the man were both missing their heads , and the hand with the torch had disappeared as well. So I first needed to reconstruct those parts before I could start presawing. I modeled the neck and head of the rooster with plasticine and the hand was remade pretty quickly too. The tricky part was the position of the original hand, because in the only picture I had, the fingers were in an almost impossible position. But the head was more of a challenge. because this young man had quite a big head. I had glued a piece of hard PIR-foam onto his shoulders and from there I started looking for the right size, position and shape of the head.
I tried to see my progress by comparing my pictures with the original image. In the end Stide decided he would carve this one, so he has has been the one to make the finishing touches to the remodelling. See the gallery below for an impression.

Gallery -click on a thumbnail for the entire picture-

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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Ornaments for Utrecht's Domkerk and St John's Cathedral 2

Finial

As you may perhaps remember: I last year I carved ornaments a few times and even made some stonemasonry work for St. John's Cathedral in 's-Hertogenbosch.

The blog posts can be found under the following headings: Stonemasonry work and ornaments for St. John's Cathedral, Finally another update! and Ornamental work for the Utrecht Dom Church and St. John's.

I recently got a new batch of ornamental work in the yard again, including another identical finial block for the same buttress finial of St. John's Cathedral. The first block I carved in its entirety myself, including the stonemasonry parts. The second block was precarved by stonemason Mike Slotboom from Slotboom Steenhouwers in Winterswijk and the ornamental work was done by my colleague Serge. The third block was carved by three young stonemasons from Slotboom Stonemasons, who have all done their terrific best, and I carved the ornaments again: the crockets.

pallet with ornamental work in the yard of the sculptor's workshop

Together with my colleagues

sculotor's workshop with many projectsFor larger projects, I work with my colleagues Stide Vos and Serge van Druten. We were all trained as restoration sculptors at our former employer's Beeldhouwerij Mooy in Amersfoort. There, we worked together for about 15 years, so we know each other really well and get along famously.

Self-employed in the sculptor's workshop

We've continued all three as independent restoration sculptors, but keep in contact regularly, because it is such an incredibly small world. For this branch, the carving of ornaments and statues in new stone for mainly churches and castles, there are now still three restoration sculptors working fulltime. To my knowledge. It has always been a small group and that's never been a lot larger; there are times when all the work seems to come all at once and times when we really do not have enough work to keep all of us going. That's why we do other work as well, such as autonomous sculptures, reliefs, bronze statues, house signs, repairs, burial monuments, work for other sculptors and much more.

Jelle starting on a flying buttress figurine

Recently, Jelle Steendam has come to work in the beeldhouwerij to help alleviate the pressure and increase his knowledge at the same time. So that makes four in the Netherlands. There are of course many other sculptors in stone and I also know a few other restoration sculptors, but I rarely encounter these within my own genre.

Dom Cathedral in Utrecht

overview West Facade of South Chapel of Dom church Utrecht

Wherever the numbers are the side crockets are to be replaced

At this time we're mainly working together on sculptural- and ornamental work for the Utrecht Cathedral and the Eusebius Church in Arnhem. Serge and Stide in particular have made many tuffstone side crockets for the Dom cathedral already, but in between all of the other work I also managed to carve a few flowers in tuff myself. On the right is a picture of the three Gothic pointed arch facades, with a triangular frame above it. Along that frame, 12 crocket flowers are mounted, and with two and a half façade that makes 30 crocket flowers in all. One doesn't count, so we'll need to make 29. This is just a fraction of what you can find on this beautiful church.

Gallery -click on the thumbnail for the whole picture-

Snow

It was cold in the sculptor's workshop, but it's beautiful, and we can dress to the occasion. As long as we can warm up again during breaks we'll be fine.

 

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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the Supreme Commander-in-Chief (flying buttress figurine)

flying buttress figurine of Commandor in Chief by George vd Wagt. Copying into limestoneThe next flying buttress figurine is the topmost one of flying buttress no. 33. The statues on this flying buttress were carved in 1954 by George van der Wagt, and depict six crippled, blind and lame persons, after the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. At the top sits a male figure with a beard, in a blessing posture.

Mudra

flying buttress figurine of Spureme Commander-in-Chief (with Abhaya Mudra) by George vd Wagt. The copy in limestoneThis blessing posture is often depicted in Christian art, in particular in icons. I do not know if this posture has a specific name in Christian literature. I know it from the oriental yoga; where this hand gesture is called the Abhaya Mudra: meaning, "No fear'-hand gesture. It is meant to take all fear away from the blessed person. In the West, this gesture has a more general meaning of blessing.

Supreme Commander In Chief

The Beatitudes: old flying buttres figurine of Woman With Headache

The Beatitudes: old flying buttres figurine of Woman With Headache

It is not clear to me whom this figure should portray. It's mentioned as 'a prophet’ in the records of the restoration from 1954, but I think it was rather meant to depict God the Father, on his heavenly throne. Perhaps the sculptor meant that the people who suffer are blessed. Van der Wagt was apparently not religious. In a newspaper article from that time he explained that he did not know what the story of the Foolish and Wise Virgins was about. He borrowed a Bible and read the story, 'And that's why now there are women carrying cans of oil all over the church'. So I guess he that he didn't ascribe a higher meaning to this sculpture as much, but made it to complete the series. Perhaps this was also done at the request of the church council, or whoever chose the iconographic themes.

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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Ornamental work for the Utrecht Dom Church and St. John's

A suspended ornament for a canopy of St. John's

Ornamental work in Udelfanger sandstone: suspended ornament for a canopy from St. John's Cathedral

I'll still need to adjust the profiled parts later

It was an interesting last week of the year. I first went to St. John's Cathedral in Den Bosch, where I needed to carve some ornamental parts. It was a ‘suspended ornament’ from a canopy. The old one had weathered down and I was asked to make a new one. But the scaffolders above my head were already busy breaking down the scaffolds, so after taking some measurements I went back to Achterveld again with the workpiece to finish it there. I had actually already done this ornament long before that, but when I got there the first time, I noticed that the flowers I had carved on it so nicely were bigger than on the ornaments around it. So, I've taken it back again, carved the new basic shape in the workshop, then went back again to Den Bosch, and made a start with carving the leaf motif there, then back to Achterveld, and finished it there.. Now I'll still have to install it on site. Sometimes things are bad, and sometimes they're worse. Like this time.

Visitors

Ⓒ Thijs Rooimans for De Telegraaf

Wednesday we would get a studio visit from an eight persons strong committee, in connection to the ornamental work for the Utrecht Dom Cathedral. But we had only just received the stone from which we had to make them. So we immediately started the carving work. We'll be carving 29 side crockets in tuff for a restoration of three facades of the Southern Chapel. This is near the courtyard, the Pandhof. This quadrangle by the way is a very magical place, a must when visiting the inner city of Utrecht. Serge had modeled two maquettes, and Stide and I had each carved an example. The comittee examined the design and details of the original fragments and of the copies. Of course the carved and molded specimens were as required, even though mine was still not quite finished.

In the newspaper

After I'd finished it, I uploaded a picture on Instagram right away, and for good measure, one on Twitter as well. Apparently I had put the right hashtags next to it, for less than an hour later I got a call from a reporter who wanted to write an article in the Utrecht edition of De Telegraaf. At the end of the day the photographer came, and made that beautiful photo above. Click on the picture to the right to read the article. Pity is that it was written so that it looks like the others are employed by me, and they're not. Stide, Serge and I are all independent sculptors who work together. Even new addition Jelle is self-employed. Now that I'm getting more publicity, it doesn't make me everyone else's boss automatically!

On the radio

Later on, we were called by RTV Utrecht. They also wanted to make an item on the radio. Fortunately Stide can talk easily, so I was very happy that he wanted to take that part. He told something about the background of gothic ornamental work and our role in this restoration.

On TV

RTV Utrecht also wanted to shoot something for their TV channel, so today a cameraman came, who shot a few hours of material for what ultimately ended up as half a minute of TV material. View here here on their site: ↑

For us it is amazing that something that we've been doing more than 25 years suddenly is getting so much attention. But that's probably because the cathedral and especially the Utrecht Dom tower is right at the heart of their 'Stadsie' (town). Otherwise I can't explain it. It is also of course a compelling picture, of these dusty men working outside and making beautiful things in the cold, but obviously no world news.

ornamental work for Domkerk Utrecht

Ⓒ Steef Bouwman

Explaining yet again

I found it remarkable that at first for several journalists it wasn't really clear how this restoration process takes place. These of course are things which we never think about anymore! But eventually we could make it clear to them that first the restoration architect makes a plan, then the contractor takes out the parts to be replaced, next, the stonemason precarves the blocks and makes all of the profiled parts, and lastly we come in and finally make the ornamental parts in the places where the stonemason left a block. Then the new block goes to the cathedral, the contractor puts it back in again and points it all neatly. "So these ornaments are really used!?’ But of course, they are being copied and actually used to replace the old parts in their original location: three gothic arches on the Pandhof side of the cathedral. Smack in the centre of Utrecht.

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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Flying buttress figurine: A Foolish Maiden


A foolish maiden

flying buttress statue from the Eusebius Church in Arnhem: a Foolish Maiden

the old tufa sculptur

Of the flying buttresses which we are now working on, each have their own theme. There are seven trumpet angels, people who represent the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount, a group of Wise Maidens and this sculpture from the last arc depicts a Foolish Maiden.

Briefly, the story goes like this: …Read the whole article…