The Hands of Goodwood
When I was in my teens my friend Ruthie would work all day in her basement creating art. Her hands were dry, her fingers cracked, her nails jagged. Ruthie’s art was created by hand. A true artisan works with their hands.
Ruthie is best-known for her wire crochet sculptures, but if you have been to San Francisco you have seen one of her sculptures. Some of her sculptures were made from a lost-wax method. This method results in the mold being destroyed to reveal the casting.
Most people think of manufacturing as assembled parts. You move a steel chassis down a line and put parts together to assemble a car. If you looked at the assembly line at Goodwood your first impression would be the same. Look closer, there are no “extra” parts. Each part is handmade for that particular car. Rolls-Royce does not build parts for stock.
People who see a Rolls-Royce on the road stop and look. Traffic practically stopped when we were picked up at the airport by a Rolls-Royce long-wheel base Phantom. The bell hop snapped to attention when we arrived at the Dorchester hotel in London in a Roller. When someone wants to compare their product to the best they say, “it is the Rolls-Royce of…”
When you go to Goodwood you understand why the Rolls-Royce vehicle has a status unparalleled. It is an understatement to say these cars are handmade. These cars are created by artisans, by hand. They are the hands of Goodwood.
Humidors are used to keep cigars fresh, so that the tobacco leaf feels supple against your lips when you toke on it. Wood needs to stay supple, in order to be pliable, explains Daniel, “the room stays at 80 percent humidity and 25 degrees (77 degrees Fahrenheit).” The wood is cut .5 millimeters, or .019th of an inch. It doesn’t feel like wood, more like a soft cotton. “We need it to be pliable because we bend it to fit the car form, and we have some quite unique shapes.”
“When I see a Rolls-Royce I look to see if it was one of the cars I painted”, Claudia Maier says sheepishly, her young translucent skin turning pink as she acknowledges this tiny hint of pride. Maier is one of four women in the wood department. Her job is a highly specialized art for all to see. Maier’s job is to fill in the minute cracks in the sidearm on the car door. Most people place their arm on the door without thinking about it. But in the Roll-Royce the drivers side arm is a piece of real wood that matches the side arm on the passenger door, that matches the rest of the wood in the car.
Mark Court is the only person that can paint the pinstripe on a Rolls-Royce. Court says the hardest part about painting the pinstripe was getting over the fact that the car is “6 meters long and costs over 250,000 Euros ($360,000).”
Court told me about a time he was sent to Dubai to paint the pinstripe on a Rolls, “this chap drove his car out to meet some friends that had Rolls. All of their Rolls had a pinstripe. The guy decided he had to have a pinstripe, so he flew me to Dubai. I painted the pinstripe on and flew home.”
Court’s 17-year old son, Ashley, is an apprentice at Goodwood. Someday Ashley hopes to take over his Dad’s job.
The Spirit of Ecstasy
The last loving touches have to be taken before the car can be delivered. The umbrella is put in the side of the door, and the Rolls-Royce emblem placed on the front fascia.
The whisperer, the Silver Lady, the Flying Lady, the spirit of Ecstasy, or Emily. All of these names have been attributed to the mascot that sits on the radiator of the Rolls-Royce today. The small statue of a young woman, robes flying in the air, forefinger on her lips, is as well-known as the Rolls-Royce itself.
Lord Montagu commissioned Charles S Sykes to create a mascot for his Rolls-Royce silver Ghost. Sykes used the lost-wax method, so there was no mould and the mascot had to be remade by Sykes or his daughter, Jo, each time, till Rolls-Royce took over the casting in 1948.
Lore has it that the mascot Sykes used was actually Lord Montagu Jr’s secretary, Eleanor. Eleanor was more than his secretary, but because of lack of social status the affair was kept discreet. Eleanor died on a trip to India, but her spirit lives on, and on.
Art is forever
You can see Ruth “Ruthie” Asawa’s art at Ghiradelli Square, Union Square, and the De Young museum in San Francisco, CA. They are not for sale.
You can buy a limited edition piece of art from the hands of Goodwood dealerships, commonly known as a Rolls-Royce dealership.
From their hands to yours.