Paul Sivell is a master of the art of woodcarving and was hard at work on his entry for the challenge cup at the Robin Hill Spring Garden Show.
Although he tried his level best to answer my questions he was clearly itching to get back to his Isle of Wight Parson. A strange subject for a carving you might think until you realise that an Isle of Wight Parson is actually a bird.
“It was the name south coast fishermen gave to the Cormorant,” explained Paul who was born in Ryde.
“Henry Williamson, the author of Tarka the Otter, wrote a story called The Isle of Wight Parson,” he added.
“All the sculptors love to come here and are well looked after,” said Paul eyeing the competition from a distance and wondering when he could pick up his tools again.
“I began carving full time eight years ago,” he relented. “It started off as a hobby many years ago, fiddling with pen knives, and grew from there.
“I’ve done about a thousand carvings since I started and my thing is Green Men. A woman in Australia called Phyllis Araneo has written a thesis on Green Men and she wrote a lot about my carvings.
“It’s a nice image and often carved in wood and stone. I’ve probably done about 40 or 50 Green Men.”
Keep your eyes peeled as you travel around the Island and you will come across Paul’s Green Men peering out from former tree stumps. There is a tall one just up the road from Seaview Wildlife Encounter, looking over the fence of a private house, and another welcomes you at the entrance to East Dene in Bonchurch.
Then there’s the enormous carving of a bull at Brading, emerging from a large tree stump beside the bull-ring where these beasts were tied for baiting in bygone years. And just where the railway line crosses the Ashey Road are three owls carved from a former tree trunk.
Possibly the most famous of his carvings is the hare and two magpies sitting on top of a log on a large grassy corner in Arreton. Two years ago the hare was unceremoniously sawn from the log and an Islandwide appeal was launched to find the culprit and the severed rodent. Eventually it was discovered on the top of Culver Cliff.
“I’ve done about a thousand carvings since I started and my thing is Green Men.”
“I think they must have dumped it because it got too hot. Now it has a metal bar through it!” said Paul.
“I’ve done many hares as a result of the theft,” he added. “I’ve done hundreds of red squirrels, hares and owls – they’re the three most common ones.
“The most difficult one was a life size horse in a garden in Bowcombe, but I like a challenge – I like to do new things.
“I do a lot of private commissions and I did a religious one in Chicago. When I did that one I was interviewed by three newspapers and someone saw it in a magazine and it led to me making one in the Hollywood Hills. It was for the actor who plays Sgt Lupo in Law and Order (Jeremy Sisto), and of a stylized man and woman coming out of a tree. But they were away filming in New York when I was making it.
“My most common working media are condemned, dead or dying trees and around half of them are in situ. The majority of my work is site specific with themes that are inspired by nature, local traditions and mythology,” he explained.
“Nearly all my work is done with power tools, although I consider myself to be an environmental artist as I recycle trees that would often otherwise end up in landfill. When I first started on a piece that I did near Sainsbury’s in Newport people kept coming up to me, thinking I was doing a bad tree surgery job. But now most people recognise me and my work.”
One of Paul’s latest commissions is to produce the sculpture for the Water Ceremony at the 2011 Island Games – two solid Island oak arms emerging from a beaten copper Isle of Wight, holding aloft a bowl that is also covered in beaten copper. Another is to carve a raven figurehead for a boat at Blackgang Chine.
Although his Isle of Wight Parson did not win the Garden Show competition this year it was auctioned at the end of the show for the magnificent sum of £950 with half of the money going to the IW Hospice.
See more of Paul and his work at www.thecarvedtree.co.uk