Easter Island Head
The giant heads of Easter Island in the South Pacific are among the most famous and iconic images of Polynesian art. Although generally referred to as Easter Island Heads, most of the statues do, in fact, have torsos buried below ground. There are 887 heads in all, the average size being about 4 metres high and weighing about 12 tonnes. Although primitive in style and created by a tribal civilisation, they are not as ancient as they look. They were carved from about 1250 to around 1500 and are contemporary with the great Gothic cathedrals of medieval Europe. They were made by the Polynesian tribes that colonised the island and it is believed the statues represented their ancestors.
The heads, nearly all carved from volcanic tufa rock, are notable for their angular features with long noses, deep eye slits, heavy brows, sharp chins and long dog-like ears. There is evidence that they were polished smooth with pumice when first made, but the porous tufa rock has weathered to the rough surfaces we see today. Each one is different, so I have drawn up this design to incorporate the features typical of the style.
For new stone carvers, an Easter Island Head makes a good introduction to sculptural figure carving as the bold and primitive features enable you to experience the basics of sculpture before moving on to more detailed figures. Displayed in your home or garden, it will hopefully look more realistic than the cast concrete versions you see in garden centres.
Using the pattern
You can enlarge the pattern to any size which suits you, usually depending on the size of stone you can obtain economically (see ‘Buying your stone’). If you use a scanner or digital camera to copy it into a computer you can print the pattern out to the required size in parts on A4 sheets, taking care to ensure each part is at the same scale. Trace or paste the full-size pattern for the front and side profiles onto some stiff card, and cut round the edges to create templates. You can use the templates to transfer the pattern to the stone and check against while working.
Things you will need
• 6mm chisel
• 13mm chisel
• 18mm chisel
• 6mm gouge
• 13mm gouge
• 18mm gouge
• Point tool
• Claw chisel
• 13mm bullnose chisel
• Mason’s dummy mallet
• Stone/concrete saw
Limestone – I used Bath stone – at 150 x 220 x 320mm
Buying your stone
The best place to look for good quality carving stone is at the yard of an architectural stonemason. Look on the internet for your nearest supplier. Getting stone cut to size can be expensive, so it is generally best to
make your project fit the stone available. See what offcuts the stonemason can offer you at discount prices and choose one that is close to the size you want then work to that size. You can also get rough rocks very cheaply from garden centres and work these to shape, but they tend to be a bit smaller.
If you live in the UK, try to buy Caen stone, a beautiful creamy limestone from Normandy; Portland stone, a slightly greyer limestone from Dorset; or one of the honey-coloured stones from the central limestone belt that runs across England from Bath to Stamford, often referred to as Cotswold stone. For this project I bought a cheap offcut of Bath stone with one rough side, in the centre of the picture, and ‘dressed’ it to a squared block. You can also use sandstone if this is more easily obtainable in your area, but be aware that it will blunt your tools more quickly. Also, sandstone dust is mostly silica, which can accumulate in your lungs over time, whereas limestone dust is mostly calcium which dissolves.
You can get a smooth finish on the broader areas of a stone carving by getting a broad woodworking chisel and grinding the cutting edge into a shallow curve. If your stone is fairly soft, you can push this along like a plane to smooth out all the tool marks and refine the shape.
Carving stone safely
• Wear eye protection when carving stone – flying stone chips are sharp!
• Stone is very heavy. A cubic foot, or 300mm metric cube, of stone will weigh around 70 kilos, so take great care of your back and don’t drop it on your feet. Use lifting gear for heavy pieces.
• Stonecarving creates a lot of dust, so work outdoors if possible. Wear a dust mask if working indoors and take particular care if working with sandstone as silica dust can accumulate in the lungs. Always wear a mask if using power tools.
Shaping the face
Finishing the head