Conard Stone makes a living with the 'Wood of Life'
Europeans arriving in Jamaica discovered a purple blooming tree they called 'lignum vitae', which translates to 'wood of life'. In archaic medicinal practices, the plant and its leaves were used to treat a variety of illness. Today, the tree bears a national sentiment as its bloom has long been considered Jamaica's national flower.
For this year's JCDC Visual Arts Competition, Conard Stone took the ultimate prize, winning over a panel of judges with a stunning glossy tabletop statue carved from lignum vitae wood. "It took me almost a year," Stone told The Gleaner. He took that time to make sure it was perfect.
Stone's choice of wood was not necessarily motivated by patriotism. It was the material he was introduced to by his wood-carving teacher after he enrolled in the Mighty Gully Youth Programme. He has been using it ever since. "When I just came to the carving shop, this is the material that my teacher used. It's something that's been used from way before me."
And the wood has served him well, becoming one of his favourite materials as nothing else compares. "I have thought of it ... and we can't come up with a wood like the lignum vitae. It has that toughness about it," Stone affirmed.
That "toughness" is necessary to support the award-winning artist's technique. "We don't varnish the work. Varnish takes away from the beauty of the work. Every piece of material has to be dead and dry. If we do it green, we have to put varnish on it." Refusing to sacrifice the wood's integrity, Stone engages in strenuous work to present his work its naturally achieved sheen. "It's natural sanding. A whole heap of sandpapering," he chuckled.
As a result, Stone's artistry often turns him to nursing plants of his own. "We don't really cut down green trees. I actually recently planted a few trees to do so - they grow one foot every year."
Since winning this year's competition, the full-time sculptor from Clarendon reports that his customer base has increased. "Since I finished that piece, a lot of people have been seeing that we are not just a joke. We can do real artwork. And this is my life. I use it to do everything - take my son to school, feed my family and everything."