These last months were a period when we were mainly busy carving stone ornaments. After all the carving of crockets for finials of St. Eusebius's Church in Arnhem we went straight ahead with these large crockets in basalt lava for the Utrecht Cathedral. During my vacation the blocks had arrived and a first example was approved by the assessment committee.
French basalt lava
Volvic Basaltlava originates from near the French village of Volvic in the Puy de Dome, in the Auvergne. This village is known for the eponymous mineral water, but its stone has gathered its own fame as well. Basaltic lava is tremendously resistant to weathering, and this kind in particular is also suited for carving, such as, for example, can be seen at the Cathedral of Clermont-Ferrand. It can all appear to be a bit grey and dull when it is used all over a building, but when used sparingly and mixed in with other stonework, it can be a valuable addition. Unlike for example Peperino Duro, Volvic will remain well defined under all kinds of weather- and lighting conditions, whereas Peperino will soon appear a vague gray mass, and the play of shapes becomes unreadable. Even when it rains the lines are still clearly visible in Volvic. It was widely used, for example, in the last restoration of Our Lady's Tower in Amersfoort as a replacement of sandstone, even for the sculptural parts. This stone actually blends in very well with the gray tones of weathered Bentheimer sandstone.
There are more types of basalt lava, like Niedermendiger and Mayener basaltic lava, which for centuries has been used for grindstones, because of their durability, hardness and sharpness. To me, these are not nice stones to carve in; one needs to really work hard to make something and it all remains very dark. That is why, in this case, I submitted a proposal to carve these ornaments in Volvic, in particular because a few meters below them the same stone is used on the same walls of the Dom Church. Alternatives for this were Peperino and sandstone. However sandstone is more vulnerable than Volvic.
Advantages- and disadvantages
As mentioned, Volvic is well suited for carving. It can even be used for enameling, or rather glazes, provided it's first covered in a thin layer of clay. This process is mainly suited for large tile panels without seams. Drawbacks are that those can't be made much thicker than 3 to at the most 5 cms, and there will always be a risk that the stone will snap in the oven. However, I would like to carve a relief one day and then have it glazed to create a vivid and colorful display.
The material will always remain unslippery and that's one of the reasons that basalt lava is often used for steps and stairs. It will weather very slowly. But it is a lava rock, containing many small gas bubbles. These bubbles may occur in lines, along which the stone could break during processing and also after cutting when on the pallet it could still spontaneously break along an invisible tension line . The stone is layered and carves a lot easier in one direction than in the other. Like most natural stone, Volvic basalt lava also comes in various shades of colour, from gray to deep anthracite, from nearly black, to brownish purple and almost burgundy-like brown.
Four on the same page
The four of us have worked on this assignment. Stide has made four of them, I did five, Jelle made two more, and Serge accounted for the lion's share and carved the remaining nine. Working together in such a group, the individual differences between the individual sculptors working are bound to show, for after all, we are not machines. Yet there was a great partnership and close cooperation among us. For instance, on two occasions the three of us have been working on one clay model, all at the same time , during which we noticed to our own surprise how much consensus there was on the shapes that we were pursuing and how the tension needs to flow within the leaves. Stide had initially made a clay model, which we adjusted together during the first visit of the committee, and Serge's first piece was carved after that model.
Ten left and ten right
These twenty large crockets will come on top of the left transept, where the wall ends and the eaves begin. So there are ten left hand and ten right hand crockets. If you stand between the Dom Tower and the cathedral and you walk a little to the left, you will just be able to see them. And perhaps even from the terraces next to the church.
These crockets in basalt lava will replace twenty crockets that were installed in the 1980s. These were casts, but they did not survive the last thirty years very well, so they already need to be replaced now. Fortunately, this time was chosen for graceful ornaments in a much more robust stone, so we can assume that these crockets will adorn the church for much longer.