Lesson from a Hand-carved Rock

A Personal Touch

Limestone cat. Hand-carved in Egypt, 2007.

The Backstory

It’s fun to think about how raw objects become works of art, modern luxuries, or representations of local economies.

The art of creation takes not only the right eye but skill and imagination, and it seems that this creative capability transcends cultures and continents. That’s what I started to think about, as I investigated two of the hand-carved objects I’ve obtained over the years.

The Object

Hand-carved, unique detail

More specifically, I’d like to take a closer look at a hand-carved limestone cat and jade knife that I have in my collection.

The limestone cat was carved in Egypt in 2007 and was gifted to me by my colleague from COSI. I was indirectly part of the team that went to Egypt to explore the archaeology for a traveling exhibition that was being developed. Supporting the trip was one of those honors that continues to be a career highlight.

As I was told, the limestone cat was carved in a street vendor area where a lot of these types of souvenirs are seemingly massed produced. Even though the production quantity is high, the hand-carved nature gives it a unique presentation. The level of detail and accuracy, of what I can only assume were hand tools, is intricate… you can almost feel the emotion and labor that went into each cutting stroke. It’s something I wish I had the patience to do… carve away pieces of rock leaving only the image you want to show. Amazing.

The Jade Knife

During a family trip in 2015, we were fortunate to visit the relatively new, small, and developing country of Belize in Central America. It was a day trip to see Mayan ruins that required an hour long boat ride to get to to the city that was once home to over ONE MILLION people… Lamanai. It was amazing to see the ruins of such a city, climbing to the top of a pyramid, and seeing nothing but dense forest for miles and miles.

Perhaps not surprising, there were local trades folks that set up shop in a few local cabins for us tourists. Jade was a stone that was plentiful in the area and was used to craft all kinds of jewelry and material, and in a shop, a hand-carved jade knife caught my eye. I had to get it to remember the trip and the city that flourished there.

Jade knife from the Mayan City, Lamanai, in Belize, Central America

The knife was very smooth and carved in such a way that it honored the land’s history. In contrast to the limestone cat carving, this jade stone has unique grain patterns, which make each piece not only have the signature cut strokes of the artist but the unique color palette of the stone. The combination is extraordinary and elegant.

The Lesson

I think it’s amazing that cultures from Egypt and Belize use the same rock carving approach in appealing to tourists and do so with very similar techniques. Perhaps it’s low cost, but the product is personal and local… a classic combination for suckers like me who like a good story when visiting some place new.

What can these two pieces of stone hand-carved on opposite ends of the Earth teach us?

  • Creativity is common across cultures and boundaries.
  • The imperfection of human skills is where creativity and art begin.
  • Patience and art have an interdependent relationship.
  • Apply honest effort and a personal touch to what you do, and it will be appreciated and shared.

Much like my popular Honduran Sea Horse story, it’s an honor to be able to support cultures from other countries and help share a small part of their extraordinary story.

Hand-carved jade

BONUS: Jesus can mold and shape us with His creativity and patience… 
if you let Him.

Written by Shaun Holloway.