Fire in the royal palace, a masterwork destroyed, and the skills required to replace it lost in the mists of history. Thus began the challenging woodcarving life of David Esterly. An American with degrees from Harvard and Cambridge, he became fascinated with the work of 17th Century woodcarver Grinling Gibbons after he saw his first piece behind the altar of St. James Church in London.
He decided to write a book about the famous carver, but felt the need to experience handling the tools and carving for himself. This began a self-taught career spanning four decades of extraordinary work. Easterly’s one man show, the Art of Subtraction is currently on display at Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, NY through March 10, 2013. www.mwpai.org
Esterly’s work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio, and called, “some of the most astonishing work being done in wood today.” by Fine Woodworking Magazine.
His recent book, The Lost Carving, a Journey to the Heart of Making, describes his experiences recreating the famous carving by Grinling Gibbons lost in a fire at Hampton Court.
Esterly uses 130 different gouges and prefers English lime wood, similar to American basswood but finer grained, to carve paper thin ornamental foliage and flower petals. For centuries it was believed that no one could duplicate the skillful execution of the Gibbons style, but Esterly does it with a flourish.
I first became of aware of Esterly’s carving in the 1980’s. I hoped to ask him to do a guest appearance on my PBS woodcarving show, but at the time he was carving in England. He continues to work in his studio in Upstate New York creating carvings that take a year or more to complete and command six-figure prices. If you get the chance visit his show in Utica, or see his work at www.davidesterly.com