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This blog features the current woodcraft, Art and Graphic work of David Stanley.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Gnome Character for the Whimsical Wood Automata. Why he came to be there.

The gnome character has the appearance of controlling all the cyclical grind of the automata, albeit in joyless resignation. This character has been carved from jelutong, painted with acrylics, given some additional colouring with coloured pencil and a little watercolour wash for shading.

The gnome character is the most animated character in the scene and because it is a human-like character he is the hero, or more probably the anti-hero of the automata’s story. He is there to be identified with, as the automata’s little narrative unwinds.

However there is not much going on in this automata’s story really, just a repetitive turning and to-ing and fro-ing until - it - slows - and - stops. A lot of action - but nothing really happening. 'A show about nothing'...

Or as Ecclesiastes 1:1-3 reads...

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”

    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”
What do people gain from all their labors
    at which they toil under the sun?

And as it goes in Don McLean's lyrics for 'Dreidel'

And as you grow, each thread of life that you leave
Will spin around your deeds and dictate your needs
as you sell your soul and you sow your seeds
and you wound yourself and your loved one bleeds
And your habits grow, and your conscience feeds 
on all that you thought you should be
I never thought this could happen to me

Don McLean - 'Dreidel'

Gnome seems to desire more than his toilsome bondage to cranking provides. Even the decorative repairs to his worn coverings attest to the meagre aspirations he projects beyond his immediate experience. Unwilling compliance shapes his demeanour in a demonstration of 'Jagger-esque' dis-s-satisfaction.

Gno-me is so absorbed by his toil – or the circumstance of it, that he is oblivious to what surrounds him:

The faithful dog happily focused on his master.
The chameleon happily doing what he ought to, wanting nothing more.
And so too the bird.
Only the cat strays from kind virtue – Observing him with supercilious derision.

Empires come and empires go.
Civilisations come and civilisations go.
We come and we go - in ‘this present evil age’- 'under the sun'.
Christmas has now come and Christmas has now gone.
A year is going and a new year coming.
An age is passing and a new age coming.

As much as this passing ‘festive season’ is constructed by us and cranked around by us, in pursuit of our meagre aspirations, it arises from a more substantial narrative. A true Narrative that beckons, invites, promises and provides – Purpose, meaning and life. In the words of the Messiah (Christ), Son of David, King in the Heavenly Jerusalem;
 Come to meall of you who are weary and over-burdened, and I will give you rest! Matthew 11:28

The real Christ-celebration (Christ-mass) is the whole history of humankind from expulsion to reconciliation. From rejecting faithful focus on our maker - being self-absorbed with the toil of meagre aspiration, perchance to escape dis-satisfaction. Doing what we ought not do and by straying from kind virtue - We needed rescue from ‘this present evil age’, and.., then...

'pleased as man with men to dwell - Jesus our Emmanuel... Came... Risen with healing in His wings'.

The Rescuer, Jesus, has come - Lived and did all things well - Died and killed death - Rose and  brought life - He sent - He left and sent and still remained - And will yet come.

This narrative, the oldest narrative, is His-story and the invitation for us to belong to Him. Finding ourselves purchased by Him for our everlasting-meaningful-pleasure in eternal enjoyment of
our Creator, for His Glory.

Yes, I know I have appropriated this automata and its elements as an illustration of the Redemptive History Narrative – 'after the fact'. But not entirely. It is a true story that we who believe it have not authored.

Instead we have become ambassadors of The King of Kings and as such have no business doing less, when we pass on His terms of peace and invitation,  than assert His words.
Part of the invitation is to 'believe that you may understand' (credo ut intelligam) and by believing, belong.

Paring back layers of added meaning  now, we get to the bare wood, the shavings and chips and some of the more mundane reasons for making a gnome the chief character.

Firstly what else comes to mind so easily, that could be attached to a gear train and appear to make it go? A steam engine perhaps? No, that implies some kind of 'real life' imitation of actual industry. A armed and legged puppet – A little man! Yes! He has to be little for some reason and has to be a bit ridiculous to go with the nonsense of this whole machine.

So the whole design has proceeded from carved lettering to automata. To ridiculous little man in automata – A decorative ridiculous little man. A Mr Punch like, decorative ridiculous little man is what he ends up looking like, because my 'go-to' compositional device, is the relating of fast and slow curves. His resultant cresent-moon shaped head compliments the circular gear wheels and his hunched gait and motion will do so too. Thus he looks a bit like Mr Punch – A very, very bad character.

Too bad a character for the part however. No one identifies with a smiling psychopath (I hope) but the personal calligraphy of related curves turns his mouth glumly down. He'll be a 'bad' character still, but likably safe – because he loses, always loses. He will be like a George Castanza, a Basil Fawlty, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, a Wiley Coyote.

It isn't far for the designing-as-you-go mind to wander from here, to the human condition and your own participation in it. And an allegory builds around whims and that which lies ready at hand, as hours pass – shaping, carving, designing, drawing and thinking. Thinking about how and thinking about when. But very often thinking about why.


  1. His unjust reward for having created an hand cranked automated machine that he was very excited about inventing, thinking all the while how clever he was, is to be forever after responsible for keeping it in motion. Because he invented it then as a matter of pride he can't abandon it. But he realizes his slavery to his own machine is a situation of his own making, therefore the grimaced face. He is the master of his own fate.

    1. Automata’s tell a story and or suggest another story. If I may persist with my interpretation, I don’t think ‘Gnome’ is anything other than a bad character even though I see myself in him. We are human however in a real world with real forgiveness on offer. I have moved on to other projects now but hope to find some use for this automata for promoting my website at shows. Subsequent automata will be less mechanically challenging I hope. I am currently working on a Hobbit House diorama. So while I am glad you are following I am also a little nervous trespassing on the fringes of territory that you have so fully mastered.