Monsoons and cobras are all in a day’s work for Maxton sculptor Jake Harvey as he transforms a giant block of basalt into new art for Kelso.
Harvey, who lodged the winning submission for the new £40,0000 piece of public art being funded by Sainsbury’s for the town’s Georgian square, has been in India since last month working with local stonecutters at a yard south of Chennai – formerly Madras.
He is leading a team of five Tamil Nadu quarrymen and a local ‘shilpi’ (architect/sculptor) to cut down the massive block from its original 33 tons to just 20 tons before it is shipped to Glasgow – and then to Kelso – early next year, where Harvey will inscribe it, in situ, with local placenames.
In a regular diary posted back to the Kelso stakeholders’ group, which oversaw the competition, the sculptor details progress being made on the project, christened “Kelsae”.
In his weekly reports, he tells how one of the women hired to shift waste stone in the yard discovers a cobra, which is quickly dispatched.
And in week three, he writes: “The two stone clearers, Batma and Swndri, are here again clearing the fallen stone amassed around Kelsae.
“The strength and stamina of these women is astonishing. A coiled length of jute sacking or cloth called a Kumadi forms a pad on the top of their head and continuously they carry heavy weights all day.
“The women have infectious smiles.”
He also reports how the block is slowly being cut and shaped by the use of ancient methods, as well as modern diamond-tipped saw blades shipped over from Kelso.
“The Apu process is slow, but it feels right to work with the nature of the stone and traditional skills of the Tamil Nadu quarriers,” he explains.
“The shards of stone can be as sharp as glass and they walk barefoot on them all day. The soles of their feet really must be as tough as old leather,” Harvey records.
And when recent cyclone conditions lashed the country, he notes: “The Kelsae stone is washed clean of dust and the dark-grey colour when wet is bonny.
“It will look like that in Kelso on many occasions.”
Charlie Robertson, who chaired the competition sub-group, says it was not possible for Scottish stone to be used.
“Basalt is being used because that’s what the square’s original cobbles were made of,” he said.
“Approaches were made to quarries here, but they use explosives which shatters the rock, and leaves it full of wee cracks and you can’t get a suitable piece large enough as a result.”