Andrew Whittle – the village gravestone maker. Letter Exchange talk 11 November 2015, The Art Workers’ Guild.
This review first appeared on the Letter Exchange website
For Charles and Ray Eames design was a “willingness and enthusiasm for working within constraints”.
For Andrew Whittle, letters are central to his work, whether carved in stone or wood or designed for metal. It’s easy to overlook memorial work in comparison with arts or architectural projects. Andrew argues passionately that gravestones are important and that these “commonplace sculptures can be the focus for a celebration of love”. In making them our energies are focussed and clients are emotionally affected by the outcome. If Andrew shares Michael Harvey’s view that memorials should be well-mannered – wearing, so to speak, their Sunday best – then within this constraint he repeatedly creates works brimming with humour and humanity: full of interesting lettering, experiment and ideas.
With a nonstop stream of slides Andrew showed what this looked like in practice. As a teacher of lettering, as well as a maker, and fully aware of the development of letterforms, Andrew’s letters aren’t academic. They “happily plunder and adapt” creating new alphabets inspired by versals, Georgian vernaculars and rustic sans. His often rectangular, compressed letterforms complemented the rectangular, vertical shapes of the standing memorials and plaques. Most, if not all, were left unpainted and many designs had Andrew’s secret signature, the carved ivy leaf or hedera, as date dash.
For the maker, smaller commissions offer the chance to rapidly explore ideas and techniques – a way of working that is vital for creative expression and development.
Many of the memorials included carved motifs: a watering can, snowdrops or a knotted rope. These were more than decoration. Andrew offered them as part of a wider tradition of votive offerings and grave goods – expressions of hope, and everyday items to accompany loved ones.
Andrew half jokingly called himself the village gravestone-maker. It must be a large village! said someone behind me. A lucky one too.