Skip to main content

Setting it in stone

Lida Lopez Cardozo Kindersley... a stone letter cutter par excellence.

‘Nothing is ever set in stone’ a cousin recently said to me and she’s right most of the time but certainly not in the world of Cardozo Kindersley stone letter cutting studio as I discovered in an eye opening tour of their workshop in Cambridge.

The workshop is a local treasure that has to be investigated to encounter its talented people and remarkable designs which have become a craft legend and are already part of art history. 

Anyone who sees one of their plaques or headstones will instantly recognise it as distinct and very much part of Cambridge’s culture because there are so many of them in evidence. The iconic gates of the British Library in London is a prime example and the grave of poet William Blake another. Steven Hawking’s memorial was a recent example.  

Letter cutter, Sculptor and inventor David Kindersley started his workshop in Cambridge in the 1940’s after doing a two year apprenticeship to Eric Gill.

Lida Lopez Cardozo joined him in 1976 and worked its him until he died in 1995.

A visit to their workshop in Victoria Road was quite an education into an art and craft which takes meticulous manual precision to get right, and up to three years of training. Letter cutters cut with a hammer and chisel and avoid using machines in a computer free environment. They design, cut , paint and gild.

Lida runs the workshop with her husband Graham Beck with her team of two letter cutters and three apprentices which she schools. Lida carves in stone, designs typefaces, writes books on the craft  and runs the workshop which is a gentle and constructive environment. 

The staff make letters in stone, glass, metal, paper and wood. This includes headstones, plaques, heraldic carving, sundials, typefaces, book plates and lettering cut into buildings. They showed me an array of ongoing projects and an Archive of work dating back to the 1930’s, as well as prestigious commissions for private clients and Cambridge University.

Beloving art is a key theme since Cardozo Kindersley headstones have a way of changing the way you look at death, not necessarily as a negative thing. The stone calligraphy is entirely unique and remembers you with respectable artistic flare.

Founder David Kindersley was a  letter cutter and designer and apprentice to sculptor Eric Gill “The monumental mason”  in 1936 for two years who a critique said of him ‘He thought, then made his thought in stone”.

Kindersley went on to be widely regarded as the best letter cutter in the business producing obelisks gravestones, engraved fish, sundails, plaques, sculptures and totems.

Lida Cardozo Kindersley now has this reputation.  

Listen to Arts Round Up episode 5

Lida, daughter of Professor Paul Lopez Cardozo and of Ottoline Baronesse Van Hermert tot Dingshof,  married him in 1976 and he died in 1995 after establishing the workshop. Lida studied graphic design at the Royal Academy at the Hague and published several books on letter cutting and workshop practices and is connected to Clare Hall College Cambridge.  

Its a an art form that lasts and is very much part of the Art and Crafts movement creating technically perfect work using slate stone, glass, concrete and brass. Clients input to the creative process and project specs.

A sketch is produced at the beginning of the finished product. If a single mistake is made at any stage of the stone letter cutting, which can be costly,  depending on what it is they either have to start again from scratch, rub out or  fill-in carefully.   

Young letter cutters work in the workshop and the skill required takes up to three years to learn since it is only done with a hammer and chisel and it has a 50 year provenance of getting it right. It take a particular kind of patient person to do this work, learning by doing.  

Although not set timescales or deadlines exist, commissions typically take a  month to complete and can cost thousands of pounds for that prefect fit for purpose. The workshop not only designs typefaces but also allows for foreign  languages including Hebrew. 

There is an array of sculptural art work and paraphernalia and art objects in the studio which makes it well worth viewing and you can make an appointment by contacting them.

Close Menu