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The Essence of Stone

Discover our new sculpture in the walled gardens of Glenmorangie House.

At Glenmorangie we are accustomed to cultural collaborations, working with others who share our ethos. In recent times we’ve worked with wood carvers, stone carvers, bronze sculptors and conceptual artists, individuals who, like us, pursue the Unnecessarily Well Made. For some time now we’ve hoped to work with Dan Snow, a leading land artist, one of the world’s great artisans, a man who brings stones to life. Dan takes natural resources – loose stone in his case – and creates something much more than the sum of its parts. His work always seems to have a deeper meaning, a complexity revealed in conversation and contemplation…

Dan was invited to spend the summer at Glenmorangie House, beside our distillery in the Scottish Highlands. We asked him to create something Unnecessarily Well Made, an open brief which saw him eventually turn to our Signet, the swirling pattern from the lower panel of the Cadboll Stone, the ancient Pictish monument the original of which once stood nearby and which now forms part of Glenmorangie’s emblem.

“I decided to take a piece of the Signet and explode it three dimensionally,” says Dan, “like a Neolithic rollercoaster ride... It would be an abstract piece, something that visitors could walk around and delve into, something that might feel like an exploration of time. I’m convinced that the swirling Signet pattern is an attempt by its creators to represent their existence in time, a repetitive design that is capable of reproducing itself infinitely outward. For the Pictish people it was an explanation of the natural world. And it’s almost certainly the most interesting pattern I’ve worked with.”

The Essence of Place

What Dan has created here is a site-specific stone sculpture, a piece of Land Art. Dan says that Land Art is about finding a place where something can be made that relies on the place to complete it. In other words, this structure makes sense here, in the grounds of Glenmorangie House, connecting an ancient people and their lands to Glenmorangie whisky which has been produced here since 1843. Elsewhere, this sculpture would be interesting and intriguing, but not necessarily so logical or beautiful.

The Essence of Time

“Working in stone means my sculptures will, mostly, outlive me. This piece will change, will take on age and lifeforms. In fact, it will take on a life of its own. The Signet already suggests what happens in nature over time. It’s an idea of nature put into graphic form.” And now, yet again, hundreds of years after it was first carved, this ancient design takes on a new structure, again in stone, a sculpture built to endure into the far future so that it too might become an ancient relic.
For Dan, dry stone construction is something he’s proud to do really well. “With each stone I’m always thinking about how I can make this strong and how I can make it last. It’s never how little can be done to accomplish my work. Rather, it’s how much I can put into it, how much I can give to it.”

No Stone Unturned

Before beginning work Dan made two preparatory visits, getting to know the area, generating ideas and making clay models. Then it was finding the stones, measuring them, cataloguing them and preparing them, which almost always included some amount of manual trimming and shaping. As in whisky production, much work is done even before the magic of creation can begin. And also as in whisky distillation, the quantities one starts with are not what one ends up with: Dan calculated that his finished work would measure about 40 cubic metres and a solid object that size would require perhaps as much as 80 cubic metres because of gaps, the surprising difference in volume between the finished work and the original piles of loose stones.

The foundations, the footprint for the sculpture, were dug and then the building could begin. It was hard work. Although his is an artistic endeavour, it’s also, undeniably, manual labour, as our film shows. But Dan has always been inspired by those who take things to their limits, those who keep trying to make their work better.

A Taste Developed

“I’d been to Scotland before this project. I first came over in the 1980s and worked in the Highlands. I felt then - and feel now - like I’ve made a home for myself here. I came to enjoy whisky too. Whisky is an essence-type drink. The process is all-important but is quite definitely left behind when you consider the finished liquid. Whisky has a purity and power about it, something I seek from my own creations.”