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A Proverbial Life A Proverbial Life A Proverbial Life A Proverbial Life A Proverbial Life A Proverbial Life

A Proverbial Life

Item Code: MW-77518-s
Date of Work
Height (cm)
Width (cm)
Base price $4,211
Individual boards 15 x 68 x 2 cm.
This is a collection of twelve proverbs taken from a wide variety of sources, which start with conception and end in death. This may sound quite solemn, but there is quite a lot of humour in between the bits of sage advice.
The wood was a baulk of heavily-weathered oak, given to Wenham a good thirty years ago. Friend and colleague Tony Walker cu it into boards and planed them up, but it was so full of splits and knots that Wenham had a hard time considering what to do with it. Some years ago Wenham became aware that the poet George Herbert had made a very large collection that was published after his death as Outlandish Proverbs. Some of these were amusing and intriguing, but this project began when Wenham's wife read out the translation of a Spanish (or French) proverb about the sky falling. This set Wenham thinking and searching for more of these proverbs, and also suggested a use for the old, weathered and flawed but interesting wood.
The twelve proverbs that Wenham selected came from a much larger assembly, arranged in pairs, each pair having a loose theme dealing with a different aspect of life. Most, if not all of the proverbs have a double meaning; an obvious and superficial one, coupled with a much deeper and partly-concealed sub-text, which the reader has to work out, although Wenham has left a few hints which might act as starting-points.
The sources of the proverbs and the 'theme' for each pair are:

Birth and before: nature and nurture 1. Translation of 12th Century Latin text from England. This is often misquotes as 'What's bred in the bone will come out in the flesh', but this misses the point: it's there, whether it comes out or not.
2. From the Letters of Alexander Pope, putting the contray case for nurture over nature.
What kind of person have you become? 3. From Timber by Ben Jonson. Perhaps it gives a clue as to why many otherwise eminent people avoid speaking in public.
4 Translated from the Old English; Durham Proverbs #21; a chillingly accurate and thousand-year-old observation of human nature.
Work 5. From Herbert's Outlandish Proverbs #48; perhaps a bit right-wing for today's political and social climate.
6. 18th Century, much quoted in admonitory books for the young, but source untraced. Wenham likes the ambiguity of 'physick': is the work done to pay the doctor's bills, or is it a cure in itself? Or both?
Realise what's possible (and what isn't) 7. Outlandish Proverbs #336: an elegant bit of irony. One wonders where Herbert found it?
8. Translation of a Spanish (or French) proverb: the images it conjures up are delightful.
Be careful of your friendships 9. Translation of a Sicilian proverb: a sad but true reflection on the common tendency to blame the messenger for the bad news.
10. Outlandish Proverbs #94: something that must have happened a lot in medieval England, and still might is one isn't careful.
Summing up and farewell 11. Outlandish Proverbs #524. For Wenham this is the best proverb of them all. If you have enemies, this surely is the way to treat them.
12. Quoted in Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis, but source otherwise untraced. If you're going to do it, give it all you've got and do it NOW.

Featured in Martin Wenham: The Art of Letter Carving in the Wood, by Martin Wenham, 2022.

A free copy of Martin Wenham’s new book Martin Wenham The Art of Letter Carving, published by Crowood Press (price £25), will accompany each purchase from the exhibition.
Martin Wenham PortraitBorn in 1941, Wenham’s interest in lettering was stimulated at an early age. At university Wenham read botany and forestry, his artistic propensity aiding with precise observational drawing. Throughout this time an interest in pen-lettering persisted and after a research colleague requested a carved house-name in wood Wenham approached the professional carver Harry Spring, who showed him the basic technique of letter-cutting.

After a year Wenham left research and for the next 23 years taught in secondary, primary and special schools, with 9 years’ lecturing at the University of Leicester. He first exhibited his letter-cutting work in 1982; since 1984 it has been shown in the major British exhibitions of lettering arts. Wenham’s work is held in the Crafts Council’s Permanent Collection and in private collections in Britain, the USA, Germany, Japan and Puerto Rico.
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