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The Wayland Kista.
Over the years I've taught myself a few crafts, sometimes on my own or often with the help of friends.
Woodworking though has often been a challenge for me. I can normally beat a piece of metal into submission fairly well but wood demands a more co-operative approach and I find that frustrating at times.
This project came about as an effort to rectify that situation.
Rejoining the Vikings Society and returning to public events after a few years absence prompted me to start making stuff again which inevitably means more stuff to move and transport. For the most part, I carry my stuff around in wooden boxes based loosely on a Viking age tool chest found at a place called Mństermyr.
This six board method of making chests seems to have been commonplace in the early medieval period and suits my needs well. Discovering that my local DIY store had started selling sawn oak boards, I decided to build a new box.
As the oak was quite thick and therefore heavy, and as I had no other practical way to reduce the thickness, a plan slowly hatched that there might be enough material to do some deep carving on the surface.
The Vikings liked carving wood. I suspect it may have been their finest art form but sadly wood does not often survive well in the ground so much of it must have rotted away.
The Oseberg ship burial was placed in ground conditions which remarkably preserved some astounding quality carvings but apart from rare and often accidental finds the next best source we have are the wooden stave churches which survive in a few places in Scandinavia.
Most of these are slightly later than the Viking period but they do give us a flavour of the tradition of carving that must have existed.
One such example is a portal that survives from a church in Hylestad that is now housed in the Kulturhistorisk museum in Oslo.
The portal illustrates the story of Sigurd the giant slayer and dates to the 12th-13th Century so although the story is old enough, the style of art is slightly too late for me to copy directly but it did give me the framework of an idea.
As some of you know, I have been widely known as Wayland for many years. This is not just as a simple connection between the legendary smith and my penchant for bashing metal but also because of my surname of Waidson, formerly spelt as Wadeson in our family history. According to some historical sources, Wayland the Smith was the son of a giant called Wade which in effect would have made him a Wade’s-son too. A mythical progenitor of sorts.
There are one or two pictorial sources relating to Wayland ( or Voland as he is known in Norse sources.) but nothing as complete as the Hylestad portal. The most relevant one for my purposes is the Franks Casket. This small carved whalebone box has several scenes on it but one covers a couple of episodes from the story of Wayland and it dates from the 7th or 8th Century.
The Casket shows Wayland capturing the feather fetches of three swan maids (Valkirie) on the right and later, while a captive of King Niu seducing Bl÷vildr, his daughter on the left, with one of her dead brothers shown under the forge.
Another useful image comes from Runestone VIII at Ardre dating from the 8th or 9th Century.
This image shows a similar scene with Bl÷vildr leaving on the left, the dead brothers on the right and Wayland using a feather fetch to escape between Bl÷vildr and the forge.
I also used foliate elements from a stone cross shaft at Bewcastle dating from the 8th-9th Century to influence the art style of the border and give it a better British provenance.
The only part of of the artwork I now needed for the story were a King and Queen which I borrowed from another late source, the 12th Century Lewis Chess pieces.
The resulting design was developed using greaseproof paper as a tracing film, working through different versions, refining the design on each re-drawing. A process which gave me a new respect for our ancestors that would have had to work directly on the wood, probably with charcoal.
I then used black carbon paper to transfer the almost final design onto the sides of the chest. A few things will change before it is finished.
I used a router to take some of the heavy work out of getting a deep relief. This just saved a bit of time but would have originally been done with chisels and gouges.
This was side one after roughing out with an 8mm bit. I’ll tidy it up with a 6mm bit after side two is done and then move onto the proper carving tools.
This is side two with a couple of sections cut back to create a sense of relief, the cross overs chiselled in and some of the main partings cut in.
Rough rounding out of the foliate elements.
Here is the first scene almost finished. Wayland taking the feather fetches of the Valkyries.
There’s still a bit of fettling to do before its done but you can see the final form now.
Work went a bit slower today. Faces definitely take more time and this scene had five of them. What was I thinking?
Not quite finished, hands and a few details to do but my hands were getting tired so it was time to stop.
I stopped before doing the fine detail again. This is much better done in the morning when my fingers are less tired.
This is the first side almost completed then.
Bl÷vildr bringing the ring to Wayland and before being seduced with strong drink.
So here we have Wayland killing the Princes. I’ve also reworked Bl÷vildr to improve her face a little. Faces do not seem to be my strong suit.
And the final scene where Wayland makes the skulls of the Princes into drinking cups for the King.
He then escapes using a set of wings, made from feathers collected while he was held captive.
A quick coat of oil to feed the wood and this is what both panels look like.
I’ll leave the oil to soak in for a while we are in Ireland and then treat it with a mixture of oil and birch tar.
So this is the finished chest.
All in all, an interesting challenge that taught me a great deal. Not just about carving wood but also about one of our oldest stories.
It has certainly given me a new respect for those craftsmen of old, who certainly wouldn’t have had power tools to help them do the job.
Postscript: I’ve been asked many times how long the whole project took, which is difficult to be sure of now.
Looking at the dates on the images, my diary and even receipts for tools and materials it would seem to have taken about 14 days on which I usually downed tools after about 8 hours work.
That does not include the time taken to research and create the design which I would estimate at being at least another day.
Altogether I think 120 hours is not far off the mark.
Additional Postscript: Following a number of requests to use the designs you see on this website for everything from tattoos to tee-shirts, not one of which came with any offer of payment for all the work that I put in to create the designs, I need to make something clear.
Although my work is inspired by historical sources, the designs you see on these reconstructions are my own original artworks and are therefore internationally protected by copyright law.
If you want free artwork for your commercial projects, May I suggest you go and do some research and create your own designs, there is plenty of inspirational material out there to work with. I’m sure it won’t take you long.