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24 September 2014

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Lida Cardozo Kindersley
Lida at work

Carving their names with pride...

Helen Burchell
In a converted school on the outskirts of the historic centre of Cambridge, Lida Cardozo Kindersley and a small group of dedicated apprentices spend their days engaged in what can only be described as a labour of love...

What began as a fascination with shape and form has, for Lida Cardozo Kindersley, turned into a lifetime's passion.  Hand carving letters into stone and slate must be one of the most time-consuming artistic forms still being practised - but, not only is the undertaking a tonic for the soul - the results are unparalleled in their sheer skill and beauty.

Hasten Slowly sign
Sound advice for all!

Today, Lida and her artists produce hand carved work for private and corporate clients - including designing and carving the lettering for Cambridge city centre's brand new Grand Arcade - and their work can be seen the length and breadth of the country.  The Cardozo Kindersley Workshop has also been the subject of a BBC2 documentary series - A Passion for Churches.

Brought up in Holland, Lida studied Graphic Design at the Royal Academy in The Hague where she developed an interest in letter carving, and, nurtured by an enthusiastic teacher, was introduced to David Kindersley, one of the UK's foremost exponents of the art.  Kindersley - if the name sounds familiar - was responsible for designing the lettering used on every street sign in the UK, so if you know nothing else about the man, you'll most certainly have seen his work.

Stone carving apprentice
Learning the trade...

As Kindersley's apprentice at his Chesterton studio - and later as his wife - Lida worked on perfecting the art of letter carving and design and today runs the Cardozo Kindersley Workshop on Victoria Road, with a staff totalling nine, which includes at any one time three apprentices to whom the future of the artform is entrusted.

Lida carves in a number of different materials.  Stone comes into the workshop from all over the country, and she also uses slate and glass.  But the art of hand carving lettering is by no means restricted to grave stones.  The workshop creates commemorative plaques, artwork such as sundials for gardens and parks, stunning monoliths, and together, Lida and David designed the gates for The British Library in London. And, being Cambridge-based, Lida's work - and words - can be seen in almost every one of Cambridge University's Colleges as well as the University Library.

"You can see the difference between a machine carved letter and a hand carved letter. It's like the difference between a plastic rose and a real rose."
Lida Cardozo Kindersley

"We've done a lot of work for the University of Cambridge.  It accounts for about five per cent of our annual work, and is incredibly important because within the University we have so much know-how that when it comes to needing a Latin, Greek or French inscription, there is always an expert with whom you can check.  And the Colleges want things properly done. They don't want a computer-generated 'dead' plaque stuck to their walls – that would jar with what's already there."

But, I have to ask, is it really worth all the time and effort, when modern computer programs can create perfection in stone in a fraction of the time?  Can anyone really tell the difference?

"Well, letters can be cut by machine and can be done very accurately and absolutely precisely," Lida explains. "Every 'a' is the same; every 'b' is the same. But it's dead.  Every letter is the same because the machine just cuts exactly as it's told.

"Although WE do what we're told, there are always things that happen when you're cutting by hand.  All the time you're judging – just a bit more here, a little more there… If I do such and such it looks a bit more lively.  Or, if I do this, the spacing gets better. 

Tools adorn the walls

"And all the time you're aiming for perfection so you're always one step ahead.  A machine is always one step behind.  In principle, a machine could carve something that's absolutely perfect, but I don't think that perception lies in the finished article.  It lies in the way you're doing it and in what you put into it.  A computer doesn't put anything into it.

"We live in a world where, if you can measure it, it's real; and if you can't, then it's not real.  I live in a world where the most important things are immeasurable."

last updated: 17/01/06
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