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Art Works: Woodworker Martin Sommerville at By Our Hands We Make Our Way

25 November 18 interview: LeftLion

Martin Sommerville talks to us abaht his wooden puppet, Hobo...

This is Hobo, a marionette hewn from lime wood with chisels and mallet.

Five years ago, I was trying to carve myself out of deep grief. After my first son died, my heart cracked open and puppets leapt out, unbidden. I was as surprised as anyone. Together with my partner, I'd been making art with emotionally vulnerable, marginalised people. Suddenly, we were trying to remake our own lives.

Shaping lumps of wood seemed the natural thing to do; rough forms and textures became faces, arms and feet waiting for a body. This is who appeared over a week studying at Norwich Puppet Theatre. People love seeing him in the window. Everyone brings their own personality to making a puppet dance, and each puppet has their own character.

Wood is alive even after being cut from the tree. It talks back to you, sometimes loudly and obnoxiously, disagreeing with everything you had in mind for it. Working with hand tools, I have to listen. I use locally reclaimed wood, taken from damaged or managed trees. To me, it’s important to know the story and people involved. I love the grain, the endless variety of pattern, the sliced life history of long-lived beings. It's frozen sunlight.

Everyone brings their own personality to making a puppet dance, and each puppet has their own character

It’s also fun to plane shavings off a long, straight piece of ash; to bash, chop, shout, sing and swing, wielding that axe like a wild man. Deep healing is in the stillness, the sweat and physicality. I think trees are our ancestors in some way. There are blacksmiths, joiners and cartwrights in my family too; my brother and I were encouraged to dream and build by our parents.

In another life, I designed video games. I feel it creeping back in, alongside other things that died away five years ago; drawing, printmaking, music, paint and colour. I have ideas for interactive carvings, performance, moving sculpture, and stuff combining electronics, sound, animation and wood.

My partner Carly and I love collaborating with others. This year, we’ve been building a studio, gallery and workshop. We've been working all over the country for the past fifteen, and it feels good to have a place in the heart of our community, to share what we've learned and invite others to do the same.

Now our second boy, Sol, is playing with us. I was carving the proper space in my life for him, too. Together we're telling stories, wondering what comes next.

By Our Hands We Make Our Way website

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