Women and woodcarving
Okay ladies, it is time to stand and be counted. It is now the 21st century. With the passage of the women’s suffrage in the early 1900s and the furor over the equal rights amendment in the seventies, most of us are quite a bit more independent than our mothers or grandmothers ever dreamed of being. Women have traditionally been the caretakers of their husbands, families and homes. Most of us now hold full-time jobs whether due to financial necessity or the need to feel personally fulfilled. Some of us have chosen non-traditional jobs even some which are considered masculine jobs. No longer are we just nurses, teachers and secretaries but we are now firemen, policeman, astronauts and construction workers. There even some of us who have bucked the tide and remained mothers and housewives. That is an expression of our independence. We can now be we want to be, not who society tells us we must be. We are faced with some of the same challenges that men have always been faced with. Most of us need to work in order to pay the bills and keep food on the table. Some of us live alone and our entire welfare falls on our shoulders. Some of us are single mothers with children to support. We have busy lives, busy days and oftentimes take too many commitments on. It is important that we learn to take care of ourselves. Women are catching up to men in the area of heart disease and heart attacks. The world is stressful place. For our own personal well-being, we need to take time out from our busy lives to relax for a bit. Wood carving in and of itself can be a very relaxing, restorative and contemplative activity. Just the act of taking some time out from our busy lives to do something that we want to do, rather than have to do, is empowering in its own way.
Virgin with Apple
Caterina dei Vigri(1413-1463)
Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614)
Self-Portrait, circa 1675
and Her Children,1787
Elisabeth-Louise Vigee-Lebrun (1755-1842)
Woman With Red Zinnia
Mary Cassatt (1844-1926):
There have been many great many women artists in recorded history. But for the most part excellence in art has never been encouraged in women. It has been considered a nice hobby for us. I recently visited a website which listed all of the famous women artists that they could find information on. The list started in the renaissance age continuing right up till the twentieth century. I was amazed that I didn’t recognize more than a handful of the names and the few that I did recognize were all artists who hit their stride in recent times. Is this to say that women artists have never been as good or as prolific as their male contemporaries? No. It goes more to the ability of men to have chosen art as their lives work, while women were expected to, at some point, begin families and take care of their husbands and childrens needs while putting their own desires on hold. There were the occasional women whose lives did permit them to pursue the arts as a primary focus, usually aristocratic women whose family wealth supported them if their art could not. Just as most women did not receive serious encouragement, their work also did not command the prices that male artists did. For the majority of women, however, if they ever did find the time to pursue their own passions, it was not till much later in life, when their strength and eyesight was already failing them.
In a more logical world, perhaps it would have been the female and not the male, who was more fitted as an artist. The female temperament is more suited to the work of an artist. Women are generally more patient and able to do the finest of detail work. Their smaller hands could bring a lighter and subtler approach to woodcarving. This is not to say that men also do not have traits which are beneficial to their art, especially in the woodworking fields. Strength is required for certain applications. The ability to lift heavier pieces of wood and to drive a tool through the wood easier, are some areas where men have the upper hand in woodcarving. Generally I would surmise that while both sexes have advantages and disadvantages, where woodcarving is concerned, it is a pretty level playing field. In woodcarving classes, it is the personality of the person, not the sex, which determines what type of woodcarver a person is capable of being. Men and women are equally capable of hacking noses off of faces and of not removing enough wood to create good shadowing in a carving.
There is often a problem encountered by women which is the old fashioned idea that craftsmen are men. There are some men who are very threatened by a woman entering into a so called mans arena. I will not chalk this all up to an unrealistic fear on some men’s parts, but will concede that there are also aspects of traditionalism to this attitude. My brother, in his early twenties at the time, frequented a bar in Manhattan named McSorleys Ale House. It primarily considered itself an old fashion saloon. It opened in the mid 1800’s and has tried to maintain the customs which were alive when the American frontier was being settled. I have never been to this establishment, but know that it had sawdust on its floors, old cast iron tubs full of ice used as urinals and spittoons were available. Women, up until at least the 1980s, were not permitted entrance unless they were the guest of a gentleman. My brother told me that those men, who did bring women to the saloon, although they had done nothing wrong, were ostracized by the larger male population of the bar. I believe that there was a lawsuit brought against McSorleys and that it had to be forced to accept woman patrons.
There have been many inequalities between the sexes in recent history that have been overcome, not only by women themselves but by the men who have grown up more accepting of the idea of the equality of the sexes. Women are still considered bad luck on board maritime vessels, by some. They are still not allowed to be classified as combat soldiers although they do actively now participate in every aspect of law enforcement and warfare. It was only a short while ago that women were accepted on golf courses and in fitness gyms. Women, while not liking that they are not fully accepted, also need to understand that with each successive generation there will be less and less men who are unaccepting of working side by side with women. This is not a woodcarving or woodworking problem, it is a societal issue. Even in the federally governed Postal service, where tolerance of all sorts is demanded and drilled into our heads week after week, I had a fellow male letter carrier tell me that I did not belong working in the post office, that I was supposed to be tending to my home and baking cookies. He told me that I was taking overtime away from him and other men who were trying to raise families. ( I was raising and supporting my young son and the man saying this to me, was a 55 year old never married, single man.) He risked losing his job to be able to say that to me. While I could have caused him trouble with his superiors, I know that it was just the way that he was brought up and that even if he did lose his job over such a statement, It would still not change the way he felt.
I feel that I have gotten acquainted with a good sampling of woodcarvers in my short start and have to say that I have heard more about men not being accepting of women from other women, rather than from men. There are some men, not many, but some who resent the intrusion of women into traditional male worlds. Woodworking in general has always had its share of men who don’t believe women belong in the workshop. It is my own experience that most men have been very encouraging of me and my work but I do believe that that was because I crossed over an invisible line, if you will. I presented myself as an aspiring serious carver not as a woman wanting to make craft items. I do believe that that was the primary reason that I have been welcomed and helped by so many great men.
There is a small group of male carvers which meet in a church basement somewhere in Staten Island. They are supposedly serious carvers. I was told about them by a man. Hearing that they are serious about their work, of course I wanted to go and find out about them. When I asked the man where and when they met, he kind of hemmed and hawed and then quietly let me know that I probably would not be welcome there because I was a woman. I have now included it in my list of “must do” woodcarving things. That’s how I will handle it. I will not bring my tools with me when I go, because I can carve anywhere. I will bring my best finished piece with me, just to let them know that I am trying to pursue excellence. I will let it slip that I have a well equipped workshop. I will admire their work, ask for advice and hand out my card. The purpose of my visit will not be to invade their world but first, to let them know that I am out there and secondly that I am seeking their knowledge. When approached in such a manner, the male ego will respond. And then I will leave them to their old-fashioned world, no worse off than before they met me. I can almost guarantee that at least one of them will contact me at some later time. Also remember that if you can get a guy alone, he will react and treat you differently than he will when he is with his buddies.
Over time more and more serious women artists have emerged. It is estimated that 10 to 20% of all woodcarvers are females, whether hobbyists, semi-pro or full-time professionals. I belong to 2 different clubs and I would say that women make up 30% of the active members in each.
“Women are becoming more involved in what traditionally has been considered the area of men. There are more women in woodworking and woodturning. Being a biker, I can tell you more women are riding motorcycles to the extent there is a magazine for women only who ride motorcycles. It is my experience that approximately 40% of my students are women. The woodcarving school in Brienz, Switzerland is also experiencing this same percentage and more. Genetically women have better hand/eye coordination then men. Woodcarving, particularly chip carving which takes detail has become very appealing to women all over the country.”
“I generally have one or two ladies in my classes and the rest are men. However, I think that women carvers are generally better because they are more patient and listen much better. Most of the guys want to take big chunks and rename their work if it doesn’t turn out. LOL
I’m 56 and one of the younger one in our club. I love to see folks in the 40s commin’ in. That will give them another 40 years or so to hone their skills and pass the art along.”
Take care and enjoy your carving.
“Here are my observations on women in woodcarving. I’m seeing about 1/3 women in the carving world, which has greatly increased over the last 15 years. Of my 6 apprentices one is a 38-year old woman. I feel that she is the most talented and she is the one I hired. The other 5 are guys whose ages are 13, 17, 39, 40 and 50. Our Kishwaukee Woodcarvers club has about 30 members of which I think we have about 7 women. The women seem to be just like the men in so far as some are afraid to try things and others have no fear and willing to try anything.”
There are likely lots of other female wood carvers out there. We just haven’t found them yet. Women have always been involved in crafts of different types. But for many reasons women have always been viewed as as frivolous artists, with most being asked why they are wasting their time when there are so many other things to be done. The modernization of homes and appliances has benefited women the most. While young mothers still lead hectic lives, getting their children to all scheduled activities and school, doing laundry, shopping, cleaning and other household chores, once the children leave the nest, women really do reap the benefits of time saving inventions. In an earlier age, extended families were living under one roof and the matriarchs of the family were still actively involved in the every-day running of their homes. There was butter to be churned, cloth to be weaved, clothing to be made and mended; it also fell upon the eldest females to keep a watchful eye on the youngest members. While there is much talk today about young adults choosing to remain at home until much later in lives and about grandparents who have become full-time babysitters for their grandchildren, it is generally not the norm. As their children grow and leave home, women suddenly find themselves with time to pursue their own interests. It is a short jump from using knives in the kitchen to using knives in the workshop. Although I would imagine that there are more women actually carving at their dining room and kitchen tables, than in an actual workshop. For some, the peace found in the act of carving is more compelling than the woodworking aspects of carving. Most women have never been introduced to power tools, and even if they know what the power tools are capable of, whether out of fear for their own safety of because they are intimidated by power tools, they choose to stay out of a workshop environment. Some just don’t like the noise and prefer to be able to chat while carving.
There is a group of women carvers, who I found on the internet some years ago, “Women with Knives”. A few of its charter members attended a local woodcarving club, but were distressed that the male carvers brought power tools and used them during the clubs carving sessions. Looking to carve in a more pleasant atmosphere, they started their own group.
Women with Knives
The original WWK
left to right – Mouse, Irish, Skeeter, Fox, Saint, Da Queen, Chick, Birdwoman
(seated) Hawkeye, Shogun
Women with Knives meets for two hours on the third Sunday and four hours each Monday at various members’ houses to carve wood, watch carving related videos and exchange information about classes we’ve attended. Other times, we attend carving shows, galleries, meetings of other clubs and many places of interest.
In 1995, Skeeter Harris attended a meeting of woodcarvers that got on her last nerve. A number of members of that club were carving with power tools at club meetings. (As it happened they were all male club members). Of course the noise and such precluded much socializing and it occurred to Skeeter to wonder what she was even doing there. The following day, Skeeter telephoned me and let off a little steam. “I’m so sick of those men using power tools at meetings. You can’t even call them ‘meetings’. I’m ready to form an all woman club and make a rule we can only carve with hand tools during meetings.”
“Yeah,” I snarled, getting into the spirit. “And we’ll call ourselves ‘Women with Knives’.”
Courtesy of Woman with Knives website
Most of the original members still get together and form a great support system for other women and new carvers. What started out as a small group of women meeting in their homes has grown into an international woodcarving internet list with members from Canada, Australia and Britain, as well as from every corner of the states. I hear rumor that a token male is even part of this friendly group. These women also participate in other activities besides carving, traveling to carving shows, hosting birthday parties, taking trips to visit with one another and on their website is a picture of some of them attending a tea party all wearing fancy hats. There are Woman carvers of all types in this group, from craft carvers, woodworkers, successful commercial artists and sculptors. It is a very interesting bunch of girls who get together to have fun using carving as their excuse for doing so.
From a historical perspective, women in woodcarving are a new phenomenon. Having a place to network among other women is a great resource. There are many invisible women carvers in this country who have no such support group, who are self taught at their kitchen tables. There is still a huge population who still don’t use computers and there are areas of the country in which there are no carving clubs or other resources. It is sad that there is no way to reach out to these women, to let them know that there are other women out there doing what they love to do. There has been a huge resurgence recently in women’s crafts. Knitting and crocheting groups have been formed in almost every town and city. Scrap booking has become a huge commercial enterprise. The speed with which these crafts have grown indicate that there are plenty of women out there, with free time on their hands, looking to be part of a social craft scene, willing to spend big bucks on their hobbies. Most of the businesses that have sprouted up around these crafts are female owned businesses. There is a world of opportunities waiting for women in woodcarving. I do believe that the more women carving instructors there are and the more businesses that cater to women carvers that there are, the more women will feel welcome in the carving world. Once a woman understands that she can be as great a woodcarver as any man, the more women will try their hand at carving. And every now and then, a passion will grow and we will slowly find more and more women at the top levels of competition at some of the finer woodcarving shows. Bringing a woman’s soul to woodcarving will also change the types of carvings being produced. There will be finer details and subtler colors, more floral and feminine carvings, more jewelry and more folk art. Women, being the primary interior designers in their own homes will understand the types of items that other women might consider purchasing and some will gear their carvings in that direction. With time woman will find their voice in woodcarving and will find the next generations of males eager to work side by side and to learn from them.
As I contemplated the writing of this chapter, I knew that I could not even begin to discuss women and woodcarving, with out giving a nod to the stature and accomplishments of Nora Hall. Although I have not met her in person, her reputation precedes her. As I am at the point in my carving career where I am quickly tiring of the craft aspects of carving, I am asking myself which direction to steer my work in. More and more, I am considering classical woodcarving. Classical carving, in my personal opinion is a return to the great design work of the 18th and 19th centuries. Composition was more important than the actual carving was. Once a design was completed, the carving was then brought to life by the skill and speed of master craftsmen.
It is one of my carving ambitions to study under Nora Hall. I believe that her teaching method is unique in the field of American woodcarving instruction. There are many fine European woodcarvers who make the trip over to the states to teach a class or two, but we are privileged to have Nora Hall and her art full-time. When I first began to hear of her name and caught glimpses of her work, I admired her skillful carving and wonderful compositions but as I began researching her background and family history, my respect and admiration grew tenfold.
One of the most accomplished female woodcarvers and top carving instructors in this country, Nora Hall is a well respected international female artist. I have heard her referred to as the elder stateswoman of woodcarving, the matriarch of woodcarving and the premier female woodcarver in the United States today. Nora Hall is a third generation Master woodcarver, born in Holland in 1922. She apprenticed under her father, the renowned Dutch master woodcarver Johannes Leereveld. She grew up in a home full of intellectual and artistic exposure. Her father was host to many interesting artists and scholars of the day. Nora’s plan to attend art school was thwarted by the chaos that World War II brought to much of the European continent. Nora’s family assisted the Dutch Underground in helping Jews to escape the concentration camps. It was in this wartime environment, during the German occupation of Holland that Nora Hall began her apprenticeship. She was trained as an old world traditional woodcarver.
European methods of woodcarving reached their greatest peak in the 18th century. Not only was the guild system in full swing in Europe but fabulous, ornate carvings were being churned out quickly due to work being sectioned out. The master would design and formulate the plan for the carving, apprentices did the lamination (gluing woods together), others did the roughing out, those with a fine hand did the detailing and still others did the finishing work. The master oversaw the entire process and made sure that the quality stayed consistent with the rest of the works produced by his shop. One of the finest points of European Carving is the stress placed on efficiency.
Nora Hall immigrated to the United States in 1956 and began teaching efficient skills to American woodcarvers. Nora believes that one of the greatest faults of American woodcarvers is that most are self taught and have never been shown the full range of work that a chisel is capable of performing. She believes that you need to start with the basics and learn proper techniques, allowing the speed to come in time after many repetitions of the same techniques. She emphasizes the importance of
using hold down devices on your wood so that two hands may be used on the tools at all times. This will give the carver much better control and accuracy in their carvings.
© 1997-2005 Nora Hall Carving Designs. All Rights Reserved.
What distinguishes her style from American carving methods is the coordinated use of both hands. “The movement in the hands is the key.” Nora says many experienced carvers who have tried her technique love the results. “You have to be able to work with your left as well as your right hand. If you can’t, there will be certain cuts you cannot do.” Hall is by nature right-handed. She says carving is the only thing she does with her left hand and it took some practice to become proficient at it. “Many people never do,” she says, “and their work suffers. They get in all these contorted positions trying to get the right angle. They waste time.”
Some people still doubt Nora’s abilities as a master woodcarver because she is female, but her portfolio of past works quickly lay those fears to rest. She has carved for Hugh Hefner and her work is displayed in his playboy mansion in California. She also is frequently commissioned by the celebrities living in Aspen. She has been commissioned for stage and movie sets, churches, synagogues, wineries, and corporate clients. Perhaps the best testament to her skill is that her son, Wendell Langeberg, is now carving alongside his mom.
I had the pleasure of speaking on the phone with this wonderful woman. It was a most marvelous conversation. We discussed her early beginnings in carving. I could hear her love for her father come right through her words.
We spoke about carving techniques, carving tools and sharpening. We spoke about Grinling Gibbons and both agreed how much we have admired his work. We spoke about some well publicized carvings and she pointed out their problems. We spoke at length about the magazines being published for woodcarvers today. We spoke about the problems with selling craft items and expecting to get “art” prices. All in all, it was a unique experience for me, so early in my career. She gives me reason for deep thought as I develop my conclusion for this project.
Although Nora Hall, herself, tries to downplay the importance of her beginnings amid war torn Europe and the invading Nazis, she would have never become a woodcarver had it not been for the war. Nora had planned to become an art teacher. It was the war which forced her to remain at home. Her father, who knew his daughter needed an artistic outlet suggested that she try her hand at carving. He had more work than he himself could handle. Nora told me that their first carving day together began at about 11 a.m. and that with the exception of stopping to eat the dinner her mother made, she carved into the wee hours of the night. She says ever since that first day she has had an overwhelming “urge” to carve.
I encourage each and every female who is considering carving as a career to learn a bit more about Nora and her methods of carving and to find a bit of inspiration in the unique path she has followed in the American woodcarving scene. Please visit her on line at www.norahall.com.
Women come to woodcarving in many different ways. First and foremost it is a way to express their artistic abilities. With Families to raise and houses to keep, women can find it hard to pursue their true passions. Whether finding woodcarving was an accident or part of their overall artistic expression, women carvers have a unique story to tell.
Spirit and life sized wood sculpture hawk
37 years ago, I had a job I really hated (Insurance Claims Processor). I was dating a fellow whose roommate had lost both his legs and was taught woodcarving as therapy. Watching him, I thought, “I could do that!”. (As an engineer’s daughter, I had no fear of tools.) He wouldn’t let me touch his carving tools, so I bought an Xacto knife and found a board that had grain that suggested hair flying in the wind. I sketched out a face and torso and the flying hair, and would carve for an hour or so every day after work. Talk about therapy! An hour of carving is worth 3 martinis in terms of calming and cheering.
It took me about 2 months to complete this first carving, suffering many cuts along the way, but learning a lot about grain and the nature of wood. Then, someone wanted to buy my carving! (I didn’t sell it.) I quit my job. I knew this was what I wanted to do. I worked as a waitress (approximately 50% of the time) for 3 years, and then had the incredible gall to open a shop in German Village, a big tourist attraction in Columbus, OH. I knew nothing about business and almost nothing about carving, working with just a knife, chisel, and gouge, and using a file and a razor stone to sharpen. I received a lot of publicity because I was “a WOMAN carver”. Interestingly enough, I still have people come to me and say they bought one of my carvings then, and they still love it.
Of course, the business failed, because one really must know something about how to run a business. I went back to carving at home, and doing small exhibitions. I had joined the Columbus Chippers, a new carving club, and became friends with Mike Gabor, one of the founders of the club, and we became close friends. He made a mallet for me, and had me on one of the 1/2 hour segments of his PBS TV series, “Woodcarver’s Workshop”.
In the meantime, I got married and had a baby. The marriage didn’t work out, so I took my daughter and moved into a row house. The front room was my studio. Once my daughter replied to a question at school about the “favorite thing about your home” that, “I love my home because there are always chips on the floor!” It amused me that when before I was considered a poor housekeeper, now I was considered “artistic”.
I did run into the problem of not being considered a professional because I worked at home. Twice I opened galleries with partners, but found the partnerships impossible to sustain. As time went on, and I continued to get newspaper and television coverage, I went back to working at home.
I should say here that I never took a lesson or read a book about carving. Although through the years I’ve accumulated a lot of books, I pretty much just look at the pictures. I have read some magazine instructions, and feel that if you don’t already know what they’re talking about, you won’t understand the instructions. After you’ve fumbled through the process a few times, then you can benefit from the instructions.
I began teaching classes, never really feeling qualified to do so, but asked to do so by many people. It helped pay the rent, and 2 of my students actually developed into excellent carvers. The rest enjoyed it, and some became life-long carvers. One of my students, Helen, began to help me with my beginners classes, and then with my shows.
I had a premonition that I needed to leave the rowhouse I had occupied for 15 years. Helen and I talked about it, and we realized that we both wanted to live out in the country, and that together we could afford it. A year later, we had found a house, and my rowhouse was sold to a man very unlike the forgiving landlord I had had. True serendipity!
Our house is in the Hocking Hills, a beautiful and serene area with plenty of tourists who come to hike the canyons and buy local wares. After 5 years here, we opened a gallery in the front of the house, with the knowledge that it would take years before the gallery was a paying endeavor. With little overhead and minimal hours, that’s OK. I continue to do Arts and Crafts shows as my form of advertising, and I have a web site which also garners sales and orders. I might never be rich, but I do exactly what I love to do, and bring a little beauty into the world doing it.
As regards the state of woodcarving in America, I feel it has become a booming hobby/career area. There are more women coming into it all the time. (After all, we know how to handle knives in the kitchen, don’t we? Why not in the workshop?) Arts and Crafts is the fastest growing industry in the world, and we’re in the thick of it. Finally, there’s just nothing more satisfying than creating beautiful carvings from beautiful wood.
Believing that wood is a living medium, Spirit uses only hand tools while creating sculptures of birds, animals and people. The direct interaction of knives and gouges with the wood allows her to feel her way into a breathing representation of the subject. She prefers to use native woods like basswood, butternut, cherry, poplar and walnut. Over the years, Spirit has progressed from using a hobby knife to quite an arsenal of professional carving tools. Spirit carves nearly every day; it is her life’s work, her celebration of life.
Spirit has lived, worked and traveled all over the world, and her work is in collections in Europe, Asia and Australia as well as the United States. She is probably best known for her wildlife and bird carvings, but she is certainly not limited to those subjects. Her delicate figures and fantasies have a collector’s following, she has done many works for churches, and is often commissioned for portraits. She works with architects and interior designers to create detailing on doors, mantels, lintels, newel posts and wall murals. One major work, an 8′ X 4′ wall sculpture 7″ deep depicting the Kenya Bush with 76 animals, is a permanent installation at the Columbus, Ohio, Zoo, and was shown internationally on the cover of Reader’s Digest.
Visit Spirit’s Website: www.sculpturebyspirit.com
Lois K. Henry
Dancing Fox Woodcarving
I started carving wood in 1972. I have a degree in Fine Arts from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I began teaching carving in 1990 through Durham Parks and Recreation and Durham Community Education.
My inspiration is usually found in the wood itself. My favorite way to work is to jump into a piece of wood with only a vague idea of what it is to be. I make a lot of adjustments as I carve even when I start out with a pretty good idea of my finished piece. My least favorite way to work is on a commission where the buyer has a very specific idea of what he or she wants the carving to look like. I have to add that these are the ones I usually learn the most from doing.
I suppose the tools I use are dependent on what sort of wood I’m carving, how large the piece is to be and how much detail is to be included. I may start a carving using a chain saw to rough out and use a variety of power and hand tools on it, finally finishing the last details with a tiny gouge. If I have a style at all, it is ‘whatever works for the project at hand’. Large tools depend on pleasant weather (I work outdoors with those) because my shop is so small, I have to go outside to turn around.
I use a lot of photographs while carving and when I watch a wildlife video, it is usually with an eye to body parts and gestures of the animals. My collection of books containing wildlife photos is probably as large as my collection of books about woodcarving. I have tried using patterns in the past but find them unsatisfactory except that I benefit from the research that another carver has done. For example, if I want to carve an animal I’m not familiar with, a pattern can be helpful with details that are not generally seen in photos, e.g. the back of the head, the bottom of the paw.
I am very much process oriented rather than product oriented. It is the act of carving rather than the finished carving itself that I enjoy. I admire Ian Norbury’s carvings greatly, and I own and read his books, but I just don’t work that way. I sometimes make drawings but they are more apt to be gesture drawings and I work out the details on the carving itself. Whenever I begin to read instruction which has you to ‘Begin by making an exact, detailed, clay model and then, using calipers, ruler, graph paper and cross-hairs, carefully transfer …etc.’, I never read much past that part.
When I first started carving, I picked up wood from the firewood pile and just started in. I didn’t have any idea what sort of wood it was. Later, I bought basswood from a hobby shop (expensive). When people find out I’m a woodcarver, they sometimes offer wood to me. I usually say ‘sure’. At various times, I have come home to find an entire wild cherry tree, a heap of mahogany cast offs from a furniture reproduction shop and red cedar stumps. By far the largest treasure trove of wood given to me was an entire black walnut tree that was felled in Hurricane Fran. Right now I have enough wood on my property to keep me carving for the rest of my life. But when I’m offered more, I still say ‘sure’.
At this time, wood is the only medium I work in. Years ago, I carved stone for a while. I was a lot younger and stronger. I have painted, and will probably do so again, but I enjoy woodcarving so much more. I am a dismal failure working in clay. I seem to have more of a knack for finding something inside than for building something up. And besides, wood smells better than clay.
My carving group is my support group -hello, my name is Lois and I’m a woodcarver-
We are drawn together by this fascination with wood and the many things that can be done with it. We reinforce one another, advise one another, sympathize with and teach one another. Sometimes I run into a carver who is on his or her own, and the first thing I do is offer the dates and locations of group meetings. A few carvers will go determinedly on their own way, keeping in touch sporadically, but many join one or more groups and begin to contribute as well as enjoy the benefits.
My husband, Jim, owns a business called JCH GeoInfo Solutions and deals with computer software and hardware related to mapping. He has been in business for 15 years. He is a wonderfully supportive man who understands that I really would prefer a bandsaw to lingerie on my birthday. My daughter, Marnie, is a physical therapist who has a clinic, Innovative Physical Therapy, in North Bend, Oregon. She loves and owns horses and uses them for physical therapy. She lives much too far away, but we visit as we can. My son, David, who is 21, is at NC State University in nearby Raleigh. He is studying computer engineering. I have grandchildren ranging from 19 to 10 years of age. My family is very supportive and understanding about my woodcarving habit.
Q. What items sell best for you and why do you think that is.
A. ”Three things. Wood spirits, Santas and animal carvings. People just
seem to like wood spirits, collect Santas and the animal carvings are
almost always commission work.”
Q. What is the biggest mistake that carvers who are trying to sell
>their carvings, make.
A. ”Pricing – either too high or too low. You need to know your
demographic and have a realistic notion of the quality of your work.”
Q. When and how did you begin selling your work?
I started out selling in small galleries and stores. Previously, I
had done paintings on commission and began taking commission orders
for wood carvings too. I think that I do better with word of mouth
than gallery or store sales. I don’t have to price my work so high
and there are fewer problems with breakage, shop lifting and just
plain getting shop worn. I like interaction with my customers and I
miss that when something is sold out of a display case and I never
meet the new owner.
I am not interested in the craft circuit. People are looking for low
end items and seldom buy the larger pieces. From time to time, I do
go to some events to demonstrate wood carving and take along a few
pieces to show and offer for sale. In recent years, I have had
commission work from my web site. I didn’t put it up with the idea
of offering carvings for sale, but it worked out that way. I have
had a few sales as a result of woodcarving shows, where you put your
card by your carvings after the prizes are awarded.
I don’t sell enough to call myself more than a hobbyist.
It is important to find or create a niche in carving if you wish to be financially successful. Teri Embrey is one of those few who have traveled a long and winding road. She had tried her hand at carving once before but was never able to do much with it. She again tried her hand at carving a few years later with different results. It is Teri’s unique style which first draws attention to her carvings. Her line of popular Santas and Christmas related carvings tap into the huge Holiday item market here in the United States. She is not an attention seeking artist but her carvings themselves seem to bring attention to her and her work. Getting your carvings marketed correctly is all important in generating sales.
“I have no formal training in either carving or painting – I just sort of figure it out as I go. I think about taking some classes sometimes, but I’d be devastated to find out I’m doing everything “wrong”. I’ve been carving seriously since 2002, although I did try it once in the early 90’s but didn’t get anywhere then.”
Teri Embrey is a self-taught artist with a passion for old world Santas and the wonders of nature.
Drawing inspiration from timeless legends (including St. Nicholas, Merlin, Santa, Father Christmas, King Arthur, Lady Hope, and more), Teri’s work is a celebration of the spirit at the heart of such legends: the spirit of hope.
Each new work becomes a unique reflection of that simple spirit, taking on its own quiet personality as she works the wood, revealing gifts “intended for the soul”: a comforting quilt to warm; a favorite old book to nourish; or just a knowing touch from a compassionate friend.
Teri’s carvings began as a form of therapy – a way of working through the lingering effects of depression. “It’s been a journey of rebuilding, from the inside out”, and has enabled her to reach out from within – to find and share her own hopes and dreams as she continues to grow, both personally and as an artist.
“It is that spirit of hope we all need – kindness, compassion and giving – that I try to celebrate through my work. My work is an important refuge on my life’s journey, and when it touches someone else along their own road, mine has been worth every step.”
Teri’s award-winning work is featured by select galleries and collectible shops throughout the country, and has appeared in national publications, including Carving Magazine and Better Homes & Gardens’ Santa Collection (Vol. 6).
Teri currently lives and dreams in her “cave” in Seattle, Washington.
The next carver who I affectionately refer to as “Krum” questioned whether she was good enough to be included in this project. I assured her she was good enough. She does not know it yet but she is one of those female carvers who I keep an eye on because she is in the process of trying to find her niche in carving and is beginning to meet with some success. She creates some unique items and she will find her voice eventually. I have watched over the last few years as she has tried to market her bird houses, bat houses and butterfly houses. There is a huge marketability of garden items in the United States. Sometimes it pays to make functional items rather than decorative carvings and Cathy has found a way to combine the two. The next few years should be exciting for Krum as she tries to find the right outlets that will allow her work to be exposed to the right people. Good Luck Cathy, We’ll be watching you.
Birds & Bloom was the best thing to happen for my houses. I had planned on sending the picture last fall. But since birds nesting was over I decided to wait. Which might have been a mistake as people do buy for Christmas. So I waited till February I believe to email them a picture so that it would at least be near spring when it came out.
Actually I was hoping it would be in the section where they show off peoples houses they make. Instead they put it on a different page and I was really shocked. It meant to me that they decided it should be not in that section and really for me an Honor to have them do that. I did email them right away thanking them. And they did respond back.
Yes it’s hard to find exposure and I tried and tried to figure some way to get the word out. I still have orders coming from someone reading that article! I just did one off to a lady who is serving overseas-someone sent her the B&B and she ordered one for her husband in the US.
The Carvers Corner
Grand Rapids, Minnesota
Jean Melton a.k.a. Mouse
Jean Melton, a member of Women with knives, shows us that carving can be a wonderful pastime as she has carved off and on for most of her life. Carving can be a relaxing social activity for any woman. Even after raising 5 children Jean still has the energy and desire to carve a bit here and there. Carving does not have to be a way of life, it can simply be a part of what makes everyday a gift.
Born and brought up in Amityville New York, now living in the central part of North Carolina for the past 35 years. I live in the woods with two great cats…raised 5 children, and now have 3 handsome grandsons. I’ve carved a bit here and there all my life, along with other crafts, but never almost exclusively until winter of ’96. Shortly after that, I found the carving club Women With Knives in a nearby town, it was listed in Chip Chats. Spent most of my time carving until I got a computer May ’97, and now my time is shared between the two.
I encourage all those women out there to try their hand at carving. It is not just for men. You don’t need to be an artist. Most women will never be exposed to woodcarving. Generally a shyer bunch then their male counterparts woman need to be welcomed into the wood carving world as they will help fuel the expansion of carving in the coming years. Women make up more than half of the baby boomers, who will have longer and more productive lives than those of previous generations. The woodcarving world in general and businesses in particular are advised to start targeting women, to bring them into the fold. There are wonderful women artists out there just waiting to be discovered and they can excel in carving if steered in the right direction.