The Lost Carving

From the jacket:

A fire in a royal palace, a masterwork destroyed, and the skills required to replace it lost in the mists of history. So began the most challenging year in David Esterly’s life, a time of discovery and reflection that would indelibly change him, forcing him to question his abilities and delve deeply into what it means to make a thing well.

Fifteen years before, awestruck at the sight of a Grinling Gibbons carving in a London church, Esterly had turned away from a promising career in academia to dedicate his life to woodcarving—its physical rhythms, intricate beauty, and intellectual demands. Now, decades later, he is the foremost practitioner of Gibbons’s forgotten technique, which revolutionized ornamental sculpture in the late 1600s with its spectacular cascades of flowers, fruits and foliage. His year at Hampton Court, where he was summoned to carve from scratch the spectacular Gibbons piece lost in the flames, showed him the way forward and continues to reverberate in his life.

Esterly’s memoir is a gripping detective story of experimentation and revelation and a vivid account of workshop camaraderie and competition (together with a sometimes combative relationship with palace authorities). Framed by his sojourn at the palace, it is also an eloquent meditation on the glories of physical work and its place in today’s digital world, with haunting implications for anyone fascinated by the lost mysteries of art and their intersection with creative life in the present day.

Written with a philosopher’s intellect and a poet’s grace, The Lost Carving carries the reader ever deeper into the marvel of creation, exploring the connection between creativity and physical work and telling the story of the passionate pursuit of a vocation that unites head and hand and heart.