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Stonemason puts late father’s face on York Minster grotesque

06 September 2019

In one hand, the sculpture carries a urine bottle, and, in the other, a book bearing the Latin inscription ‘Accipere defricatus urina’: her rendering of ‘Taking the piss’


Harriet Pace with a grotesque of her father, Martin, who died when she was 11

Harriet Pace with a grotesque of her father, Martin, who died when she was 11

A STONEMASON has put the face of her late father on a carving high on the outside of York Minster.

The mason, Harriet Pace, believes that her limestone grotesque of a doctor captures the sense of humour of her father, Martin, and the medieval masons who fashioned the original figure centuries ago.

In one hand, the sculpture carries a urine bottle, and, in the other, a book bearing the Latin inscription “Accipere defricatus urina”: her rendering of “Taking the piss”.

Ms Pace, who has been a member of the Minster stoneyard team for nine years, explained that, when replacing carvings, the intention is to copy as much of the original as possible, but after that the mason is allowed to innovate; so she looked for ideas in medieval reference books.

“It was pretty badly weathered: it had lost an arm and both legs, and you couldn’t see what the face was like,” she said. “It had a high collar, a cloak with a hood, and a book; so I had a choice of a monk, a choirboy, an astrologer, or a doctor. I chose the doctor, because I thought it could be quite humorous. There are some stained-glass windows in the minster of monkeys holding urine bottles; so I thought that would fit. I don’t know Latin; so I used Google Translate for the inscription.

“When I told the master mason why I had chosen this theme, he said they were totally fine with it: the clergy think it’s hilarious.”

The figure, which replaces an 18th-century restoration, is Ms Pace’s first grotesque. “I had never carved a face before, and needed some guidance on looking at it from different angles; so I thought it would be a nice tribute to my dad to use pictures of him.” Her father, a sculptor who taught at York’s old art college, died when she was 11.

“He was 49 when he died, and didn’t have much hair; so I used one of him when he was in his twenties, with long hair, which fitted the medieval hairstyle better. I also used pictures of my brother Sam, who looks a lot like him.”

Ms Pace, whose grandfather, George Pace, was an ecclesiastical architect and cathedral surveyor, used her father’s chisels and mallets, and added her surname on the book’s spine, and the Nike logo of a tick on the doctor’s medieval shoe because she always wears trainers.

“I’d like to think my dad would be very proud of me,” she said. “I would watch him at work in his studio carving sculptures, when I was little, and wonder how he made them. Although he never taught me how to carve, I feel like I’m very much a part of my dad, so have taken to his skills quite easily. He was a very jokey dad; so would probably find the joke about ‘Taking the P’ quite humorous.”

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