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I enjoy writing. It helps me clarify my thoughts. Every sculpture I create is really a story I find irresistible that finds expression in stone.

I usually have a lot of excess brain space when I am sanding and finishing a stone sculpture so I begin to write the blog for that piece in my mind. Having done quite a bit of research for each sculpture, I start by riffing on ideas.

I define the most important aspect of the creation process. Sometimes it is the story of the animal. Sometimes it is an experience I had with a particular individual. Often it is the story of the making of the sculpture. Every picture is worth at least a thousand words.

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Nightingale

“Nightingale” is a stone sculpture expression of the symphonic song of the nightingale, brought to life in a myopic marble that equates vibrant sight to glorious sound.

Inspiration

I read somewhere that the song of the nightingale is thought to relieve stress.  One can find its virtuosic vocalizations in soothing nature videos.  I wanted to make a sculpture that might relieve some of that negative energy.  Ironically, I found the making of this sculpture to be both stressful and jubilant.

Nightingale Fun Facts

The nightingale is a small, plain, brown and beige songbird.  It is completely non-descript and reclusive, hiding in dense thickets of trees and bushes.  Nightingales build their nests just above ground level, they are not lofty birds of the canopy.

It is a European songbird not found in the Americas and migrates to Sub-Saharan Africa in the winter.  Nightingales are found in the southwest of England and throughout continental Europe, and have been an influence in many cultures for thousands of years.  Because they migrate to Africa, they also have a significant presence in the culture and folklore of some African countries.

The male nightingale is the one that sings.  Singing is part of his courting ritual; the female does not sing since she is the focus of attention.  Nightingales sing at night during the mating season, sometimes singing all night, and also sing during the day.

The nightingale is capable of over 1,000 vocalizations.  This is three times more melodious murmurs than the second-best avian songster, the Eurasian Skylark.  Scientists from Cornell University and the University of Bath in England discovered that the area of a nightingale’s brain attributed to song is significantly larger than the same brain area in other songbirds.  Scientists also discovered that older males know significantly more songs than younger males, suggesting that songs are learned.

If a nightingale ever sang in what is now Berkeley Square, it would have had to have been in the 1700’s when this area of London was still dense woodland.  Nightingales are not urban birds.

Nightingale, back view, sculpture by Ellen Woodbury.
Nightingale, back view.

Literary Inspiration

The nightingale’s song has inspired poetic interpretations down through millennia, from Ancient Greece to the present day, and in many cultures from Europe to Africa.  Here are a few:

Homer, Sophocles, and Ovid used the nightingale’s song in their writing as a symbol of lamentation.  Their allusions to the nightingale originate in the tragic myth of Philomela and Procne, where either one or the other of these wronged women turns into a nightingale.  (8th century BC)

Shakespeare used its song in his sonnets to symbolize love.  The lark’s song is misinterpreted by Juliet as the song of the nightingale in “Romeo and Juliet”.  (1590’s and early 1600’s)

English poets of the Romantic era used the nightingale as a muse, the voice of Nature, and as a symbol of joy, life, and immortality.  Many poets exercised poetic license and referred to this songster as female.  (end of the 1700’s and into the 1800’s)

“When a Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” is the title of a short story written by Michael Arlen and published in 1923.  The song of the same title (stolen) was written in 1939, lyrics by Eric Maschwitz and music by Manning Sherwin.  The song became a hit with Glenn Miller’s recording in 1940.

National Birds

The nightingale is the national bird of Ukraine and of Iran.  In Ukraine, the nightingale’s song brings instant happiness to the listener.  In medieval Persian literature, its song is a symbol of the lover who is eloquent, passionate, and doomed to love in vain.

Stress and Jubilation

As with symbolic interpretations of the nightingale, stress and jubilation go hand-in-hand with this sculpture.  Stone is a heavy, brittle piece of the earth.  As such, it is out there in the wilderness forming and then existing for hundreds of millions of years.  A lot can happen to a stone during that time.  In most cases, it is impossible to tell its history.  One inspects a chosen stone carefully, listens for the ring of an unbroken stone when struck lightly with a steel tool, lives a clean life, and hopes for the best.  It does happen that stones can break in the making.   

The First Stone

My first inclination for “Nightingale” was to make it from the deep and luminous Translucent Orange Alabaster.  I have carved this magical stone many times and it is delightfully gorgeous and trust-worthy.  Or so I thought.  It took several days of cutting to get down to the actual boundaries of the design.  When I got to this point in my process, my wondrous Orange fell into 3 pieces.  yow.  Stress and panic ensued.  Time was short for me to begin with, and a set-back of only a few days was significant.

Rojo Balboa Marble

When stones break activity obviously stops, but the brain races on.  I had few choices in stones the appropriate size for Nightingale.  But I had a glorious and enormous block of Rojo Balboa Marble full of color and movement.  Perfect for the outrageous trills and full-throated warbles of the nightingale.

Thankfully, I also had the time to bring this melodious maestro to life in all his cacophonous glory.

A Short Digression

We had a phrase working at Disney Feature Animation, “Make it sing!”  This meant whatever you received as an assignment, it was your responsibility to make it the best you could, whether it was a primo acting and personality scene or a bit of action continuity to get the character from one place to another.

I carry that philosophy into my stone sculpture.  If a subject is to be carved in stone, it must sing!

Happy Outcomes

I love the nightingale in his opulent new stone.  He is better, he works, he sings!  This is creative serendipity in its most perfect form.  I do actually feel like I made a bit of happiness.

Excerpts of Other Recent Entries

“New Perspective” is a stone sculpture metaphor of the white-breasted nuthatch, and embraces a personal philosophy of optimism.  It is a contemplation on my new perspective after reading Humankind by contemporary Dutch sociologist Rutger Bregman.  In this book, he successfully argues that people are fundamentally kind and seek to help each other. Inspiration I am fortunate to have many wise friends who sent cards over the winter holidays expressing hope and opportunity to create a bright new world of love . . .
 

“Raspberry Tabby” is a stone sculpture homage to my little kitten, Chai, and to all tabbies, be they orange, gray, brown, or calico.  Though comparatively small in size, they are big tigers at heart. Inspiration I had a great time carving the first homage to my kitten, a sculpture titled “Drape”.  When I make a sculpture I dwell in the presence of my subject, and I so enjoy Chai’s company.  The small boulder of raspberry red alabaster was perfect for . . .
 

“C-9 of North America” is a stone sculpture homage to Coccinella Novemnotata, the Nine-Spotted Ladybug, known to biologists as C-9.  This particular species of ladybug has a voracious appetite for aphids and is a strong ally with farmers and gardeners against plant-eating insects. Inspiration I love gardens and have built many in my teeny yard.  My husband, Brian, has an awesome tomato garden every summer.  We garden organically and use no pesticides.  I learned from my Dad when I was . . .
 

“Quiet” is an avian stone sculpture tribute to finding the quiet place within yourself.  This has been a busy year for me, and I am glad I found a mental place to relax and refresh. Inspiration My good friend Helen gave me a book for my birthday titled Humankind, by Rutger Bregman, a contemporary Dutch sociologist.  Bregman proposes that people are fundamentally kind and want to help each other.  He presents documented evidence that refutes social philosophers who convinced us . . .
 

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