Wednesday, 17 April 2013

In memoriam Kevin Cribb (1928–2013) - A newly built glider's wing and the graceful, sweeping fresh-cut tail of a letter Y

Kevin Cribb at work
Opening Words

Divinity is present everywhere, the whole world is filled with God but, in certain places and at certain times, we feel a specialty of presence. May this be such a place, and such a time.

In memoriam Kevin Cribb 
(1928–2013)

The true artist does not merely manufacture a piece of work instead they understand their natural materials so well that they are able to bring something forth from those materials that is unique and appropriate to them. Years of experience helps the artist see, in a way that many of us often cannot, the unique possibilities lying within the particular materials in front of them and their skill and love is able to bring forth a hitherto hidden, appropriate possibility into our world. When we look at such an artist's work we are, rightly, amazed and full of wonder that such a thing was, indeed, is possible to bring forth. I experienced this amazement and wonder in connection with Kevin's work twice in quick succession when, in the summer of 2000 just after I had just become the minister of the Memorial (Unitarian) Church in Cambridge I went over to visit Kevin and his wife Barbara.

The first experience will, given his profession as a master letterer and stone carver, perhaps be a surprise to some of you. When I arrived, I found Kevin working in the little hut right outside the back door. As he turned around to say hello I could see behind him the large, graceful wing of a beautiful model glider. Like most boys as a child I had dabbled in model-making but my own efforts had extended no further than one, only half-successful, attempt to build my own glider. Consequently, I knew just enough about model-making to know how hard it was to do well. When he handed me the model I could see clearly just how well Kevin had made it. The art of turning heavier than air wood, metal, paper and canvas into something that could fly with such natural ease is a good example of how, as an artist, Kevin understood his materials so well that he was able to bring something forth from them that, even as it was astonishing it was also seen to be entirely appropriate to them.

Inscription for the Cambridge Memorial (Unitarian) Church
Lettered by Kevin Cribb and cut by his son, Noel.
As the three of us sat down to drink tea in the sunny garden the conversation stayed with gliders for a while but both Kevin and Barbara are interested in and knowledgeable about so many things that this did not for long remain the subject of our conversation. Naturally, the subject of the arts quickly came to the fore and I began to discover their shared passion and skill in this domain. When I found out that Kevin was a letterer and stone carver whose lineage stretched back to the Gill Workshop and on into the Kindersley Workshop I could barely suppress my delight. One of my own heroes was the poet and artist David Jones who had a particular passion for painting letters and who had also been associated with the Gill Workshop. I was so enamoured by Jones's work that in my twenties I had also been tempted to try my hand at lettering though, alas, I had had as much (or little!) success as I had in my glider-building endeavours. But once again I knew just enough about it to know how hard it was to do well. After finishing our tea I was invited into Kevin's workshop and then into Kevin and Barbara's lovely home to look at some examples of his work. It quickly became apparent that Kevin was clearly someone who knew, really knew, what he was doing – a master of his art.

The art of bringing forth from the surface of otherwise silent stone or wood a text which was capable of speaking with such clarity and grace was for me the second example of how, as an artist, Kevin understood his materials so well that he was able to bring something forth from them that was unique and appropriate to them but which was also astonishing.

At the beginning I said that "Every true artist does not simply make things happen rather they are able to bring something forth."  So far I have been talking about bringing something forth from materials like wood and stone but Kevin was also able to bring forth something from more animated matter – namely ourselves. Because he was able, himself, to continue to delight in his materials and his life and work this helped him to pass on that same delight to others. Even though one might never share the particular skill and knowledge Kevin had, he always seemed able to share with me the sheer delight of the flying glider and the wonderful letterforms and text which flew off the stone's surface, into my eyes and thence into my imagination and heart. I found, again and again, that to hang out with Kevin was once again to become a young boy and, many times, I found myself simply laughing with joy at the beautiful, curving lines of a newly built glider's wing or the graceful, sweeping fresh-cut tail of a letter Y.

It was this extraordinary, life-enhancing, ability for wonder and delight that I shall forever treasure and this seems to me to be something that will never be wholly lost to Kevin's beloved family nor to us, his friends.

At a particularly difficult time in the family's life, following the death of Kevin and Barbara's son Joe, I read for them in this parish church (All Saints, Haslingfield) some words by the writer and philosopher George Santayana. They were appropriate then and I feel they are especially appropriate now for Kevin. With them I will conclude.

Santayana said:

"When a man's life is over, it remains true that he has lived; it remains true that he has been one sort of man and not another. In the infinite mosaic of history that bit has its unfading colour and its perpetual function and effect. A man who understands himself under the form of eternity knows the quality that eternally belongs to him, and knows that he cannot wholly die, even if he would; for when the movement of his life is over, the truth of his life remains. The fact of him is a part forever in the infinite context of [existence]."

Requiescat in pace. Amen.

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

Eternal God,
giver of life and death,
accept our deep gratitude
for the life of Kevin.

Words cannot express all that we feel,
all that we would like to say.
Help us to know that silence
is sometimes more eloquent and true.

And so, we rest now in quietness,
together in remembrance,
alone with our memories . . .

Silence . . .

. . . Thank-you for a life well lived,
thank-you for work done, things created,
for love given and received.

Thank you also for the healing of grief.
May those who bear its burden today
feel their spirits rise tomorrow
with thanksgiving.

This we ask in the spirit of Jesus our brother,
who trod the way before us. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Prayer for Peace

O Loving God, spirit of hope and peace,
Lead us from death to life, from falsehood to truth.
Lead us from despair to hope, from fear to trust.
Lead us from hate to love, from war to peace.
Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe.
Peace, Peace, Peace.

2 comments:

Yewtree said...

He sounds like a wonderful man.

I think we can learn something from the depth of his engagement with his craftsmanship, and the tradition in which it was situated. Something to meditate on.

I love that Santayana quote.

Anonymous said...

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