Gareth Jones

[bas relief by Oleh Lesiuk]

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The Western Mail 17th October, 1933

Craftsmen of Wales

THE FARM-WORKSHOP ON THE HILL

Richard Richards, Llansadwrn

By GARETH JONES

At two o’clock in the morning, when farmers in the Towy Valley have long retired to bed, a little light burns in a farm window on the hillside.

If you can creep nearer without arousing the lively sheep-dogs and peep into the kitchen, you will see an elderly, tallish man, with a sharp, narrow face, seated before the fire working in the light of an old-fashioned lamp.  His long, nimble fingers ceaselessly move a hooked knife on a piece of sycamore, and if you peer long enough without disturbing him you will see that shapeless wood turn into an artistic spoon, or egg-cup, or paper knife.

The name of the craftsman toiling on at dead of night is Richard Richards.  After a life of wandering through the world he has come to live at Y Wern, Llansadwrn, near Llangadock.

When it came to settling down “Dic y Wern” turned a cold shoulder on Australia, did not yield to the temptations of a little house amid the splendours of Canada or the States, but found a house on a hill in the Welsh countryside where he can see Welsh trees, Welsh fields, and Welsh mountains.

It was in the afternoon of an October day when I asked to see his work.

He took me into the large farmhouse kitchen, and brought a box cluttered with original wooden objects.  Cheek by jowl with solid thick ladles - puritanical in their simplicity and sternness of execution - there were dainty baby spoons with whimsical coloured designs.  As a contrast to the plain but beautifully worked butter scoops, there were some in the shape of a duck, and I warrant you that I saw those duck’s eyes winking at me as if to say “He’s a clever old boy, Dic y Wern!”

Fertile Imagination

Next to the traditional West Wales carved spoons - so smooth that they almost shone like silver - there were other large spoons, which seemed to say:

“Look at the fantasy which my maker had when he made me!”  Indeed, the delicately interwoven wooden flowers showed not only a cunning hand but a fertile imagination.  Only a man with a sense of humour could have carved that napkin ring on, which you see a brown snake pursuing a frog, and there is originality also in the design of the paper knives he makes. 

Having lived in many parts of the world, “Dic y Wern” has had a choice of different woods.  When he said that one of the spoons was out of sandalwood and another object out of Australian scrubwood I had that same excited feeling as I had when in my schooldays I wandered through the docks and listened to sailors’ tales of far-off lands.

On hearing that a dark sugar bowl was made from an Australian jam tree and the lid from a gum tree I reflected on the rich source of legends Australia must be for. the traveller with imagination.  How he could thrill the youngsters by tales of the jam tree, so called because it grows pots of jam, and of the gum tree, whose fruit is chewing-gum!

Mr. Richards’s strangest raw material, however, is the emu egg.  Alas!  his choicest emu design wrecked between Colombo and Port Said, when the egg rolled from the bunk in a storm.  “I also make egg-cups,” he continued, with a twinkle, “but not for emu eggs!”

Sticks for Everything

But his gifts do not end there.  Come into another room and you will see such an array of walking-sticks as will arouse your admiration.  There are blackthorns which would make de Valera go green with envy, sticks for otter hunting, riding whips, shepherd’s crooks of dark wood, sticks with curious painted designs, and there is one stick for finding sheep buried in the snow.

Such are the varied creations of Richard Richards’s craft.  I was delighted to hear that his secrets will not disappear and that in his classes in Llansadwrn and Llanwrda, the young people are getting on splendidly, as he told me.  They have in their teacher, however, not only a craftsman in woodwork, but a champion hedger and ploughman who has been first 41 times out of 47 ploughing competitions.

And now we will say good-bye to “Dic y Wern,” leaving him in his house on the hill and knowing well that unless Mrs. Richards puts her foot down firmly he will again to-night be working with his hooked knife until well into the black hours after midnight.

Nos da,  “Dic y Wern”; nos da!

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