Bovines and gut feelings

stone 009We use the term gut feeling as a visceral emotional reaction to something; often one of uneasiness. However this does not originate in the stomach but in the subconscious, which sends a message through the vagus nerve to the stomach. Half of our nerve cells are located within the gut and these are an important factor in our intuition. The gut feeling then travels throughout the nervous system and is experienced by the whole body.

I started the Devil’s Punch Bowl stone at Hindhead last week. In the three months of planning for the sculpture, I had agonised over where the block should be located. My gut feeling was that the block should be transported close to home so it could be worked efficiently, for as little and as often as required. With a yard space ten minutes away (as I had done when working the Lewes Group sculpture) I had averaged 3 hours per session, albeit with a slightly harder stone.

A conflicting feeling was that I should travel the one hour round-trip on country lanes to work the stone on site.

With lots of distracting people around, emerging from the National Trust car-park and cafe.

In one of the coldest spots in the south-east.

On the top of a hill.

In winter.

But this thought arose as working with the sense of place must surely help the sculpture develop; also there was a perverse feeling that perceived hardship might improve creativity. And it was that thought that, after four sessions, made me glad I trusted the ‘other’ gut feeling. I’m working longer days before stopping, probably as the contact with people when I’m resting from the mallet makes time fly by. Being questioned whilst carving is akin to affirmation; some people are actually bothered in what is going on. Additionally, being fed information which furthers the richness of the Punch Bowl experience just makes one realise the importance of being around; both the The Broom Squire and a Conan Doyle novel, Sir Nigel ( set in the area in the 1300s) have been suggested as good reading. I’m finding 5 hours is about the maximum session, with bad light closing in at either end.

This video shows the first random imagery starting to emerge, in addition to the development of the celtic cross and devil’s heads that came about through the children painting up the stone. That these are mere mechanisms for division of the block at this early stage – to disappear as stronger forms with more connection and content arise – belittles the fact that they do occur, and the mind imbues them with purpose however bland they are.

The canine head must thus represent the life I see most of each carving day? Or perhaps the Baskerville Hound from the author’s home just a few hundred yards away? And the bovine – surely celebrating the decision-making process involved in multiple-gut feelings.


this is the first time I have worn a fluorescent vest – a sixth layer – solely for added warmth.

Stone on site at GU25 6AB; Jon carving on 2 dry days a week until March – send a message if you find yourself passing. Another youtube film (directly accessible from the end screen of the one posted) gives the first imagery to make a sculptor tingle. Further film updates will be posted on youtube as the stone progresses.

The Revd. Sabine Baring Gould’s 1896 novel The Broom Squire, developed from the true story of the murder of the Unknown Sailor, is a fantastic read and gives a real feel for what the close-knit squatter families of the Bowl experienced in the 1750s. It is available as a free download for kindle here or for ipad here. A dramatisation by John Owen Smith will be performed near the sculpture in June 2013.

Sir Nigel is also available as a free download here.