Researching and Writing a PhD is a process – sometimes difficult and often uplifting and enlightening. My uplifting moment came recently when I went to visit a local sculptor to discuss the process of stone carving. To really understand how the ancient Egyptian granodiorite sculptures of Sekhmet were created I needed to try and understand the process of carving myself. To this end I took a one day stone carving course a few years ago. As I began to write up my thesis I had a feeling I needed more information and a better understanding of stone carving than just that one day, so started contacting sculptors across the country.
I was thrilled when gifted sculptor Jason Mulligan, who also lives and works in Kent, responded to one of my emails and invited me to visit his studio. On a sunny summer’s day I headed off on the back roads of the Kentish weald and after a few wrong turns I found myself at Jason’s studio in a rural farm building. Not only is Jason a highly skilled artist, but he was a delight to speak to – full of enthusiasm and happy to share his experiences of working with stone. Jason has often been inspired by archaeology, so we seemed to be two kindred spirits, enthusiastically discussing the artistic and technical achievements of the ancient Egyptians.
You can watch a video of Jason Mulligan here: https://www.youtube.com/shorts/X4cP7Ivmkz0
Jason gave me a wonderful demonstration of the force needed to cut stone, even with modern steel tools, and we looked at photographs of ancient tools and how similar they are to what is still used today. Where Jason has a steel gantry to manoeuvre a 1- or 2-ton block of marble, the Egyptians had man-power. Jason noted that “each stone commands, dictates to you how it wants to be worked and you have to be respectful” and his observations made the accomplishments of the ancient Egyptians even more amazing when you consider they were carving hundreds of Sekhmet figures to an enormously high standard and similarity. Jason thought it was a “mammoth task” to produce so many statues to such a consistency and high quality, observing “its quite mind blowing because I know the physical effort, the technical skill to achieve these sorts of forms…there’s great admiration.”
Of course, Amenhotep III would have had hundreds, if not thousands of skilled craftsmen and workers at his disposal to undertake this grand project. Still, the overall logistics of cutting and moving massive blocks of granodiorite from the quarries of Aswan to ancient Thebes, completing the carving to such a high standard again and again and moving them all into position at the King’s funerary temple is still pretty mind boggling.
Jason Mulligan is a member of the Royal British Society of Sculptors, and his works feature in collections in the USA, Canada, Europe and the UK. He has spent years perfecting his skills in order to produce compelling and imaginative stone sculpture. He understands the complexity and intricacies of working with a variety of stones from Carrara marble and Kilkenny limestone to local stones such as Bethersden “marble” with its distinctive Crustaceous fossils.
He showed me how stones can be unforgiving – anything can and will go wrong when you are carving stone, from a crack to an irregularity that destroys the symmetry of your design. The key is to work with the stone, not against it. Jason pointed out that while granites are incredibly durable and hold their polish, excellent qualities for sculpture, he doesn’t often work with them because granites are among the hardest and most unforgiving to carve, even with modern tools. Hearing this from a seasoned, experienced and gifted artist gave me pause for thought and a new appreciation of the ancient Egyptians’ achievements.
Jason Mulligan is often inspired by cultural and archaeological objects for his own work. It is not surprising then that he found the Sekhmet statues as intriguing and fascinating as I do. He added there is “a serenity and quietness about them… an immediate reaching out. I want to touch and connect with these sculptures.” I couldn’t put it better myself.
After my visit with Jason Mulligan, I not only feel inspired to take up carving again, but I’ve got a new appreciation and understanding of these sculptures which I hope I’ll be able to integrate into my research and writing.
Thank you, Jason!
*You can find information on Jason Mulligan and his work at www.jasonmulligansculpture.com
By Tara Draper-Stumm