John Adamson is staring
intently at the log clamped tightly to the work bench. He
grain and the natural curve of the wood as the saw whines
and buzzes in
his hands. He then deftly and delicately skims a sliver off
"As you carve, you work out why the figures are there and
part of the story," the 64-year-old artist explains. "The
the beauty and the strength and an excuse for a story.
sculpture come out of a log is one of the great
And as they emerge from the wood, the characters take on
John explains. They don't always end up exactly as he has
He points out a small group of carved figures crowded around
on a shelf in the front room.
"At the time I was carving it, I was thinking of it as a
group of crown
green bowlers as they measured the distance between their
bowls and the
jack to see who had won.
"I was going toward that but a woman said it reminded her of
childhood. They had found a bomb during the war. It was
soft earth. They dug it up and took it to the police
officer realised what it was and didn't want it there – they
left it on the desk and got everyone out fast. The kids had
they were doing something good but they got told off."
The story inspired John to alter the sculpture. He called it
"It changed and the body shapes became better," he said.
really been men playing bowls at all. When they became
you could put war-time baggy shorts on them, the whole thing
It is soon clear that every piece John makes, from tiny
to huge, looming giants, has a tale. So does John.
He started whittling and carving at the age of eight. He
a clasp knife in one pocket and bits of wood in the other.
It's a habit
he hasn't lost.
John worked at British Telecom for years, as it veered from
utility to slick private enterprise, and he carved wood in
time. When he left the job in 1995 he decided to dedicate
his passion and enrolled on a sculpture degree at the
Central Lancashire in Preston. That's where he learned to
"Chainsaws can be quite sensitive. If you are cutting a tree
branch you make very definite cuts because it doesn't really
where you do it. With sculpture you are doing experimental
cuts. You do
a tentative bit here and a tentative bit there. So instead
you are shaving. You are doing it quite gently.
"But I'm definitely not using it as the manufacturer
laughs. "You are not abusing it but you are using parts of
other people probably don't."
The studio where John works is crammed into the basement of
on Palace House Road, Hebden Bridge. He roves around the
totally focused on his work. Behind him chisels sprout from
saws and drills are clamped to the walls and half finished
peek from under piles of wood. Everything is sinking beneath
drift of sawdust.
Finished pieces are polished, oiled and displayed in another
room and on every flat surface in the house, which he shares
But John also works outdoors on large public commissions. He
Three Pirates in Centre Vale Park, Todmorden, and the
Dragon's Head at
Colden Junior School.
He also runs workshops and demonstrations, letting school
pupils have a
hand in the design – although not on the chainsaw.
"I ask the kids to think about what the wood could become.
They look at
it and I carve the one that is not necessarily the prettiest
one that uses the wood best. I would love to do more of
There have been experiments with stone and metal but John
returns to wood. He likes the environmentally friendly side
of it. "The
wood just appears," he explains. "The piece I'm working on
came from a
chap down the road. I cut down some of his bushes with my
exchange for some logs of cherry.
"A lot of it comes that way – it is easier to give it to me
than cart it down to the tip.
"We are eco-friendly. I'm recycling. I am taking wood that
want and turning it in to art."
Something in the log catches his eye, he circles it and the
back into life. Then he's again lost in a cloud of dust.