Two examples of sculptures by Phil Forder

The Healing Legacy of Celtic Art

I clearly remember at the age of eleven first setting foot on celtic soil. It was 1964 and my parents and I went into Wales for the day. We visited the Horseshoe Pass and Llangoilen. I recall vividly those first impressions, the mountains, the sky, the stone walls, and I heard for the first time the language. An ancient feeling seemed to permeate everything and that gave me a very satisfying sense ofbelonging, dare I say a coming home? I remember selecting a rock that would fit in my pocket, taking it back home with me and keeping it on my bedroom window sill. This, on reflection, seems rather significant to me now.

That feeling has fortunately found me again and again during my life and it seems to connect with the landscape and what lives in it. This is particularly so where ancient celtic culture once had a home. Many people I've met ,from all works of life, and from all parts of the world share this feeling about our western lands.

It was a great revelation to me when I found that I could recreate that same feeling found in the landscape when carving wood with celtic designs which is my job. This feeling of well-being and contentment that celtic art can generate is there for both artist and spectator alike. It can produce a soothing, therapeutic etfect which partially explains its popularity. Thus one can view a monument covered in knotwork and feel like a key is turning inside the spectator. The knotwork creates a rhythm, a movement that is mirrored in the spectator and a communion takes place.

1 live in West Wales on the border between Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire in what was once the land ofthe Demetae, and it came to me the other day that all the celtic lands not only are in the west but also face west. They seem to have their backs to the rest of Europe. And what they are facing is the ocean, the vast Atlantic, where the ancients found magical lands, "The Islands of the Blessed". From over these seas many great and significant people arrived, St Brendan, St Gofan, Colum Cille to name but a few. They seem to wash up somewhere and then stay there where the tides had taken them. This is the starting point for my work. I carve crosses, celtic crosses, and like the saints I find my wood washed up on the shores of Pembrokeshire. There are certain coves that are tidal bottlenecks that gather the wood for me. Coves between cliffs. It is amanng what one finds among the flotsam, there's always rubbish unfortunately even in the remotest places, but there sometimes is treasure.

Once, near St Gofans chapel in South Pembrokeshire, 1 found a wonderful branch, it was n't a plank and when I picked it up it was heavy. It was nothing special to look at but its weight gave it away. I carried it home and when 1 cut it found it was almost black inside. I carved this piece of wood into a figure of St. Gofan who was also washed up here in the 6th century, what else?

The mystery of the origins of the wood that 1 use is nicely in keeping with the work that I do. It arrives on these shores and is then inscribed with designs. All these pieces have biographies which with imagination one can try to unravel. What I do to them is the next stage in their Lives, not the final stage necessarily. I find it quite strange and wonderful to see one of my crosses on a smart clean wall under a spotlight in a gallery, knowing that a few months earlier it was on a windswept beach or bobbing around in the waves. It all adds to the mystery. It is even more amazing when someone buys it and they disappear out of my life on to their next stage.

The designs 1 put on my crosses are all of authentic Welsh origin. Welsh knotwork is simple compared to Irish or Pictish work, yet it has a quiet charm about it that belies its intrinsic complexity and potency. I like to think this reflects, in a similar way, the Welsh landscape . I have quite a large cross on my kitchen wall, the shaft is one large panel with a two loop design taken From a cross base in Llantwit Major. It is interesting to see when visitors come how before long their eyes start to follow the pattem. Round and round. A momentum is started, an internal rhythm set up. Its all very gentle, its as if the knotwork were singing. One doesn't need to work it out, one can if one wants but it works by itself, one receives it, one connects.

All the complexities of design fall upon the artist. The methods of construction can involve hours of painstaking work, getting the designs to work out. The next stage of carving the knotwork in wood or stone, by hand, is by nature a long and slow task. But as a spectator of the completed artwork, one dances with ones eyes around the twists and loops in a lively, whimsical way. I think at this point of all the incidents of "dancing with the fairies" in various legends. What was carved in stone now becomes alive. The viewer gives it life. The tensions and sweeping movements within a carved panel are enlivened, the dynamics are unlocked and the viewer begins to dance internally and the result is healing.

Phil Forder lives at Glanrhydwilym Llandissilio, Clundenven Pembs. SA66 7QH

Tel 01437 563 562

His work is permanently on show at the Golden Sheaf Gallery, Narberth, Pembs and he has had exhibitions at the Washington Gallery, Penarth, Glamorgan and the Trapp Art Centre, Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire. Phil has also started a small company that produces Welsh celtic greetings cards and books on local subjects.

Celtic Pembrokeshire Home Page

*Gors Fawr Stone Circle and the Presely Hills*Pentre Ifan,Tycanol, Nevern and Carningli

*St Davids, St Nons and St Davids Head *Credits and Links to other sites

* Accommodation in Celtic Pembrokeshire