21 June 2002

CAREER CARVED IN WOOD

MILKING ewes and carving wildfowl from wood appear to be worlds apart, requiring different skills and temperament.

But Priscilla Labourchere of Kington St Michael near Chippenham in Wiltshire has done both and turned the latter, which started as a diversion from domestic and farming work, into a passion and a small business.

Having moved around the country with her RAF husband, Cilla settled with her family in Wiltshire 30 years ago. She has brought up three sons while running a small sheep dairying enterprise, with mainly Friesland animals. She also tended a small herd of Belted Galloway. She was attracted to carving when she saw Bob Ridges at The Royal Show in 1987. Cilla says: "I saw someone carving ducks and signed myself up for a course. I did five intensive days down in Somerset with Bob and enjoyed it so much that I carried on. We were given a duck blank to work on and at the end of the week we all had a completed bird."

&#42 Talented hands

Obviously good with her hands, she is modest about her talent. But Bob thought she showed promise and encouraged her to continue.

"I enjoy handling wood. As a child I used to scrounge off-cuts of wood from the local carpenter to make houses for my hamster. More recently someone told me that Belted Galloway had never been trained to work. Ox yokes are not available off the peg, so I made one out of ash and drove a pair of steers. I like a challenge. Woodcarving was a particular joy during a difficult period when I was nursing my mother after her stroke. We both got totally lost in my work."

She started carving birds and wildfowl for her family and friends. She uses the old milking parlour as a workshop where she stores the wood and uses her band saw to cut out the blanks. She does the carving and fine detail work in her small studio in the house, surrounded by her equipment including a flexible-shaft drill and her invaluable sand paper saw.

"It is useful having a friendly dentist nearby who passes on obsolete tools. I also have a constant supply of epoxy putty which I use for setting the eyes and feet.

&#42 Butter churn

"I converted an old wooden butter churn to hold my tools. I put a collar round the neck of the churn and mounted it on a swivel." Her husband has set up an ingenious device called "the elephant trunk" which is a 10" diameter flexible duct with a strong fan to suck fine sawdust out through the roof.

Her work has gained a wider reputation during the last few years. She completed a commission for the Norfolk Wildlife Trust in 1999 for 14 birds and animals. These included waders, a bittern catching an eel, a bearded tit and swallowtail butterflies. The life-size carvings are displayed inside the Hickling and Cley centres. "Ive had a number of commissions. I made an oyster catcher, which was the symbol on a family crest, and lots of ducks. Wrens are also particularly popular. The carvings make wonderful wedding or anniversary presents."

Inquiries: 01249-750222.

Dee La Vardera

A bird in the hand… Cilla enjoys

handling wood.