Sunday, February 26, 2012

Between Deep Water and Dark Forest

"Turning tides, their regularities!
What is the heart, that it ever was afraid,
Knowing as it must know spring's release,
Shining heart, heart constant as the tide?"
                                     - Seamus Heany
[from the dutch of J.C. Bloem (1887-1966)]

High wind cut cold North Atlantic water in tattered edged waves, curving and crashing, and then sucking smooth pebbles in foam froth.

On the abrupt coast, spruce trees leaned over cliffs in sharp edged late winter sun.

The liminal space between deep water and dark forest was protected by a coastal ridge from the wind; but the sea was tossed, turbulent, humped in white edged rollers, coming in from the bay, carrying the smells of salt and sandstone.

Gulls curved along the rocky shore, past the stacked ghosts of pebble beaches a hundred million years old, exposed by the gnawing ocean.

Walking along the water I found the sun fallen in shards and captured it to bring it here to this strange place and show it to you.

Friday, February 3, 2012


The sun cuts low through winter trees, woodsmoke hangs in the air.  Walking through the forest one day I find what's left of a raven dance, the steps clear in the snow. I can see where a raven has scratched it's beak back and forth drawing concentric lines.

As part of a project I have been drawing too, exploring Viking Age ornamentation with pencil and paint, I interpret the knotwork that was inlayed long ago on the blade of an axe that was found in a place called Mammen in Denmark.

If you look closely you can see that this is a beast tangled in it's own horns and body, head thrown back.  Viking Age ornamentation is expressive with a narrative purpose that forcefully shines from the arcane lines. Strange and beautiful, what must a Viking artist's dreams have looked like. These were the shapes of their fierce spirit allies; the heath monsters that they drew on their weapons to frighten their enemies.  Perhaps they believed that by tying them up in this way they where harnessing their power.

I have been exploring Mammen ornamentation for a sword I have recently completed. I've shown many of the steps of it's creation on this blog. Here is the finished product - Galdrgrimm.

This blade exemplifies the ancient European tradition of pattern welding. A mastery of this time consuming and challenging process produces a swirling star like pattern running down the center of the blade and a keen edge which has been folded and refined to produce a shimmering subtle effect in the steel. Galdrgrimm is forged of contrasting layers of carbon steel and has a subtle blue sheen from the tempering process. Two narrow fullers run down one side of the blade and a wide single fuller graces the other. 
The hilt and scabbard are carved in the Mammen style; a popular form of narrative ornamentation in Denmark and elsewhere during the Viking Age. It features looping intertwined figures of dragon-beasts and human forms. 

The figured maple wood of the scabbard seems to shift and ripple when turned in the light, adding a mysterious glamour to the complex knotwork. The high layer edge steel refracts light in a similar way to the maple, so that there are dimensions to this sword which can only be experienced in person.

"Galdrgrimm" is a combination of the old Norse word 'galdr' which was a sung incantation and the word 'grimm' which comes from an Indo-European root word that is cognate with the word thunder. Therefore "Galdrgrimm" roughly translates to "thunder-song".

hilt - bronze, blackwood 

blade -pattern welded 1075/8670m

scabbard - quilted maple wood lined with 
sheered sheep fleece, hand cast silicon bronze.

blade length - 26 3/4" 

hilt length - 6 1/4"

overall length - 33" 

weight - 2 lb : 7.0 oz

 Smoke curls from the chimney, winter ages, the setting sun glints on the ice bordered river.