As explored in previous posts, I have an ongoing interest in the legend of Weland the Smith and its materialisations on early medieval artefacts, carved stones and sculpture, as well as in the landscape. I’ve also worked with Hannah Sackett in recreating the story inspired by various early medieval motifs.

At the Heysham Viking Festival, I was privileged to be shown, and given permission to photograph, this exceptional wooden casket that re-tells the Weland story. Created by living history expert Gary Waidson whose metalworking (and his surname) have afforded him the name of ‘Wayland’. He describes on his own blog the rationale and process of creating this distinctive item.

The object is a unique mash-up of different inspirations from the archaeological record of the 8th to 13th centuries. The form is inspired by the Mastermyr smith’s tool chest. Meanwhile, the style, and the arrangement of some of the figures take their inspiration from the Hylestad portal depicting the legend of Sigurd Fafnisbani. Most of the remaining scenes are taken from the 8th-century Franks Casket and the Ardre picture stone, while the border decoration was adapted from the 8th-century Bewcastle stone monument. The representation of the King and Queen were adapted from the Lewis Chessman.

The story of Weland is condensed and rendered through six scenes:

  • Weland taking valkyries’ feathers,
  • Weland before the king and queen,
  • Weland forced to make precious treasures for the king,
  • the seduction of the king’s daughter Bodvildr,
  • the slaying of the king’s sons,
  • Weland forging his flying machine and drinking cups from the king’s sons’ skulls.

So while we have no surviving and conclusive early medieval representations of the Weland story in the medium of wood, Gary’s work brings to life the possibility of legends conveyed through wood. The chest retells elements of the Weland story from a rich range of sources. It is a wonderful example of an innovative piece of wood carving inspired by, but not slavishly tied to, early medieval art.