“What a carver must do – if anything – to stone is to reveal more fully its intrinsic beauty and character.” - Hew Lorimer
Robert Stodart Lorimer’s collection and encouragement of the sculptors of the Scottish National War Memorial established a tradition of stone carving and architectural sculpture in Edinburgh. The tradition was continued by Reginald Fairlie, an apprentice to Robert, in the National Library of Scotland. Robert’s son Hew, balancing 30ft above the pavement, chiseled seven monumental figures, each 8’6” tall. The figures, representing Science, Justice, Poetry, Music, Religion, History and Medicine, were completed in two short years. Unlike the Memorial, the sculptures were not formed by a head sculptor and a body of assistants but by the hands of Hew Lorimer: a sole stone carver.
Reacting against sculptors who relied on assistants for carving, and celebrating his love of Medieval and early Renaissance sculptors, such as Donatello, Hew Lorimer was dedicated to the practice of direct carving. Like Michelangelo, Hew never modelled in clay but sketched his sculptures directly in wood or stone. He allowed his chisel to find the figure within the material rather than forcing it to follow clay models. During his influential three month apprenticeship with Catholic sculptor Eric Gill, he carved like a Medieval craftsman in natural light and then candlelight in a workshop which celebrated the tradition of direct carving.
Hew’s conversion to Catholicism sculpted his career. He wrote that “once the original shape of the block is gone, in the early stages of carving, you are proceeding largely on Faith.” Using a method devised from Michelangelo by Maxwell Allan, Hew’s third-scale model grew to a 27ft granite monument to the Virgin Mary, ‘Our Lady of the Isles,’ for the predominantly Catholic islanders of remote South Uist. I only wish she could be seen be more people, and appreciated in a setting free from the telegraph poles and the military facilities which are now behind her.
Hew Lorimer carving the Figure of History (1954), National Library of Scotland, Photo: © National Trust for Scotland
National Library of Scotland (1938-1956), Edinburgh, Designed by Reginald Fairlie, Sculpture by Hew Lorimer, Private Collection
Sketch of Santa Trinita Catholic Church Door Panel (1932), Hew Lorimer, Photo: © National Trust for Scotland
Figure of History (1954-1956), National Library of Scotland, Hew Lorimer, Private Collection
Our Lady of the Isles (1957), Reuval Hill, Hew Lorimer, Photo: © National Trust for Scotland
Hew Lorimer and Maxwell Alan constructing Our Lady of Our Isles, Reuval Hill, Photo: © National Trust for Scotland
In contrast to carving which unveils beauty, modelling builds beauty. Gifted with paintbrushes, needles and clay, Hannah Lorimer was an all-round artist. She became an anthropologist and met her husband, Sir Everand im Thurn exploring in Guyana, while visiting her sister Alice. Five years after her marriage, at age forty-six, she captured a perfect moment of tenderness between a mother and her child, particularly poignant as she never became a mother herself.
My mother, Jane Lorimer (born McWhirter), excelled at Marlborough College where she sketched, painted and sculpted. Inspired by her mother Carole, a wonderful painter, and encouraged by her teacher Robin Child, her clay sculpture of the Holy Family holds the same warmth and affection for a new baby.
My own sculpture, which won the Robertson's Public Sculpture Competition, was built up from techniques learned from my teacher Donna Rae. Yet I strove to reveal the inherent geometry and symbolism of the apple. The five bands, drawn from the five pointed star, seen when an apple is cut horizontally, symbolise five characteristics. In the story of Creation, Eve picks the Apple of Knowledge; Isaac Newton allegedly made the discovery of gravity when an apple fell from a tree; The Apple logo represents exceptional innovation; William Tell displayed extraordinary courage when he shot an apple off his son’s head to save both their lives, and when Paris chose Aphrodite as the most beautiful goddess, the prize was a golden apple. The apple of Knowledge, Discovery, Innovation, Courage and Beauty, is ripe in the centre the orchard of Abbey Park in St Andrews which used to belong to St Leonards School. It encompasses the school motto ‘Ad Vitam,’ ‘Towards Life.’
Mother and Child, J.B. and C.K.M.B, (1900) Hannah Lorimer, Kellie Castle, Photo: © Charlotte Lorimer
The Holy Family, Jane Lorimer, Private Collection, Photo: © Charlotte Lorimer
Ad Vitam Maquette (2012), Charlotte Lorimer, Private Collection, Photo: © Charlotte Lorimer
Charlotte Lorimer with Ad Vitam (2013), designed by Charlotte Lorimer, made by Iron Design by Rory, Abbey Park Orchard, St Andrews, Photo: © Jane Lorimer