Born, reared, educated, living, and working in Gorey, Stephen Sheridan is about as native to Gorey as you can get. In addition to that, he’s a top craftsman, keeping the art of traditional wood hand carving alive in his workshop.
Using just mallets and chisels, Stephen can craft everything from a throne to a crest, a Celtic cross, garden furniture, to tables, keepsake memory boxes and decorative set pieces. Indeed, his work stretches across the globe, with pieces in homes and businesses in New York, California, Kentucky, Argentina, Australia, Germany, even Korea. His most high-profile piece is in Monaco! Charlene, Princess of Monaco (Prince Albert’s wife) “commissioned a wardrobe from a local furniture company and I carved the Welsh feathers emblem for the top of the wardrobe,” said Stephen.
A carpenter by trade, Stephen started hand carving in Gorey Community School, where he also loved art. An accident in 2008 put an end to his carpentry, and he started up his hand carving business in 2010. Now called High Cross Wood Carvings, he put in the hard work building up the business in the early years. “I attended every craft fair I could, even up as far as Oxford Island in Armagh. An online gift store, Dannan Crafts, started stocking my pieces and I now sell in their shop in Lurgan as well.”
As with any craftsman, the right tools and materials are essential. Stephen favours lime because it allows for more detailed work, and that soft timber is more suitable for interior pieces. “Oak is more common and is longer lasting, so that’s more for pieces that will be outdoors.” He’s also happy to work in ash and beech.
He loves being engrossed in the process of carving, from drawing out the initial design, to picking a block of wood that he sources locally in Gorey and Askamore, then drawing the design out on the timber before chiselling it into a piece of art.
Throughout his workshop, you’ll notice Celtic drawings and carvings – “I was always interested in Celtic art, the amount of detail they were able to achieve with the tools they had at the time”. And that appreciation for ‘older’ things extends to his tools – his chisels were inherited from his woodwork teacher who went to Australia. “I’ve a set of hand planes that date to the 1930s, I bought them in a car boot sale. And I’ve also got a cross cut saw from the turn of the 20th Century, I bought that in a market in Kilkenny.”
Married to Catherine and dad to two children, he’s happy working his magic on his timber in the workshop, letting his work sell itself. “I like the element of giving timber a new lease of life,” he said, adding that word of mouth – and the pieces themselves – are his greatest advertisement.
PS. Stephen also accepts commissions, so if you want something unique …
Interview and photos: Deirdre O’Flynn