For him, as for Gibbon, the limewood responded beautifully, as only limewood could. It was soft, almost oily, with a nutty smell that filled the workshop and a crisp zip under the gouge; pliable, kindly, magically white and forgiving of mistreatment, such as his necessary cutting across the short grain to mould the shape of an apple or a grape.
He had tried other woods, but found ash too hard, beech and birch thuggish. Its tolerance allowed it to be drastically undercut in Gibbons's style, with a gouge held like a pencil, until the wood was scarcely thicker than a petal or a feather and the piece filled with shadow and air. At that point he would add the selective exaggerations, a curl here, a bulge there, that would make a leaf look real, even though carved in wood.
And then, leaving the piece bare except for gentle abrading with Dutch rush, as Gibbons would have done, he would set it aside to shine like ghostly marble with its own independent life. He never kept anything he made. Ever since he had sold a small mirror frame for 100 pound at a village fair, he had worked only to commission. He could not afford to do otherwise, for though his pieces eventually sold for six figures they were so time-consuming that he made only about 50 in his life. Carvers were starvers, he often said: an existence his comfortably middle-class parents in Akron, Ohio would have struggled to understand.