In 2017 I spent several months working on a carving of a stag wreathed in runes. It was inspired in part by a painting I did several years ago called Crainn na hÉireann: The Trees of Ireland which can be seen on the Paintings gallery page. That painting itself was inspired by a poem from the medieval Irish saga Buile Suibhne – The Frenzy of Suibhne. Within this ancient tale there is a poem that sings the praises of the trees of Ireland, and another that celebrates the stags of the glens. The painting I did focused primarily on the trees, so for this carving I took one of the small stag elements from that painting and expanded upon it to develop the design for this shield.
The poem about the stags begins: “O little stag, thou little bleating one, O melodious little clamourer, sweet to us is the music thou makest in the glen.”* To the left is shown the central medalion of the original painting that became the basis of the shield design – you can see the similarity of the details and posture of the stag, which measures only 2” across.
The design features a rearing stag with a border that features carved runes from my invented runic alphabet. I wanted the texture of language surrounding the shield, without it being something that would be readable – the words formed by the runes have meaning, but that meaning is concealed. The border features oak leaf and acorn medallions, a visual reference to a part of the poem: “Thou oak, bushy, leafy, thou art high beyond trees.”*
The shield is carved from a single piece of Honduran mahogany, and measures 22″ in diameter and is 1” thick overall. True mahogany wood is a joy to carve and holds the carving details very well. The oil and wax finish brings out the warm reddish brown glow of the mahogany wood.
Below is a gallery of images taken throughout the process of creating this carving. Each image includes a description – click on the first image to launch the slideshow and use the arrows to navigate through all the images.
*Poem quoted from: Buile Suibne (The Frenzy of Suibhne) being The Adventures of Suibhne Geilt by J. G. O’Keeffe, published by the Irish Texts Society in 1996.