Who was John Bunting?
John Bunting was born in London in 1927 and upon arriving in North Yorkshire at the beginning WWII, became quickly inspired to his life's work by the craftsmanship of Robert Thompson at his workshop in Kilburn, near Sutton Bank on the edge of what is now the North Yorkshire Moors National Park. He was educated at the Benedictine monastery of Ampleforth Abbey. Surrounded by the ruins of Rievaulx, Byland, Mount Grace and Fountains where, for him, the stones themselves had nurtured so much of the history of European thought and development, he settled in the Ryedale valley for the rest of his life, irresistably drawn to the rhythm of disciplined living, work and faith so strongly evoked in the very fabric of the locality.
‘With that hammer of yours, you may cut out of these rocks what you would not find by your native sagacity in the libraries of professors and … not seldom in the mid-day heat you will be aware, under the shade of the trees, of something that you would never have learned in the schools…’ (taken from Thoughts for a Carving of St. Bernard, John Bunting, 1969, Henry Moore Inst. Leeds).
This was advice St. Bernard of Clairvaux had for St. Aelred of Rievaulx, his fellow Cistercian in the 12th Century. His words resonated through the centuries for Bunting and the artist went on to produce hundreds of wood and stone carvings to adorn public and private buildings throughout the country, in a career spanning over 60 years.
He sought little by way of fame or fortune for this work but enjoyed the knowledge it was work worth doing and well done, and this sustained him and his large family until his last days at the age of 75.
For more on the life and work of John Bunting, you can find the principal archive of his writings and artistic career at the Henry Moore Institute Annex to the Leeds City Art Gallery. Dr Jonathan Black has also written a biography of Bunting, 'Spirit of Faith - The Sculpture of John Bunting', published in 2011 by the John Bunting Foundation and available directly from us on our Donations page - an overview of the book can be found under this website section Spirit of Faith.