Jake Harvey: The Kelsae Stane

Publication: The Times.     
June 2014

Working with a team of itinerant stone carvers, the Scottish sculptor, Jake Harvey spent several months in Mamallapuram in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu shaping, cutting and cleaving a thirty-three tonne lump of basalt.

The end result was eventually to become the Kelsae Stane, an impressive but quietly subtle piece of public sculpture, which was officially unveiled in Kelso town square on Monday 14 July.

The Kelsae Stane was the result of an open competition which was won by Harvey, Emeritus Professor of Sculpture at Edinburgh College of Art.

Mamallapuram was chosen by Harvey because of its long tradition of stone quarrying and sculpture, some of which dates back to the 7th century.

Basalt from this area is typically iron-hard and unforgiving. Working the stone requires special manual skills, as well as hand tools, many of which are forged in situ by the quarrymen.

The final shape and form of the Kelsae Stane derives from the granite cobbles, or setts, found in Kelso, and elsewhere. Typically these small blocks, originally carved by hand, taper downwards and have a smooth convex upper surface.

Harvey has worked with stone from the beginning of his career has an intimate knowledge of the material.   He is the lead researcher in the international Stone Project, the objectives of which include investigating and documenting the way stone is worked around the world.  Hand tools are also an important aspect of the project.

Harvey revels in the essential physicality of his medium. He celebrates the tactility and durability of stone as the most fundamental material used by humanity. Stone connects us to our past and represents the possibility of continuity. Harvey is concerned that the teaching of hand-skills and crafts, such as sculpture and ceramics, is being increasingly removed from art school curriculum.

Harvey celebrates what he terms the ‘indexical marking,’ which is found on carved stone. Essentially this refers to the traces left by sculptors and masons, such as chisel and wedge marks. Such visible clues help to date sculpture and monuments, and assign to them a provenance.

When the initial shaping of the Kelsae Stane was completed, it had shed around 13 tonnes of its initial weight. From Tamil Nadu it was shipped to Glasgow and thence by road to Kelso where it was installed, at the beginning of the year, as part of a project to restore the historic square.

Over the past few months Harvey invited families, groups and individuals from within a 10 kilometre radius of Kelso to trace the names of their towns, villages, houses and farms on the four exposed vertical flanks of the stone, creating what he calls a ‘Mappa Mundi’ of the immediate area. These place-names were then permanently incised into the stone by a variety of techniques such as hand carving and mechanical grinding.

Toponymy, the study of place names, reveals a complex pattern of settlement and conquest in the region. The writer, Alastair Moffat who spoke at the opening ceremony observed that “…place-names are living things but they also remember the wash of history over the landscape. ‘Kelso’ comes from Calchvynydd, Chalk Hill in Old Welsh, the language of the Gododdin kings who led their war bands south to a pivotal battle with the invading Angles at Catterick in 600AD.”

The stone also acts a memorial to those innumerable and un-named individuals who worked the land in the region for generations. Their long-forgotten words are embedded in the names of the touns and steadings of the area. The stone sings them alive once more, now and into the future, while their voices resonate in the quiet poetry of Angelrow, Queenscairn, Sweethope, Blinkbonny, Makerstoun and Todrig.

Craning Kelsae to site