SOWC Introduction

The State of Woodcarving in America Today

This project started out as a small idea, that as a novice carver with a few years under my belt, I would try to pass on my woodcarving knowledge and experience to other novice carvers. In an effort to legitimize my attempt, I sent out emails to the professionals in the field, be they carvers or business people.  I simply asked what they thought the state of woodcarving in America today was.  The responses were quite varied.  I then thought I would throw the question out to those who carved simply for the love of it.  I received a wealth of answers back and have learned more than I had ever hoped for from the act of writing this.  I hope the reader will find the information contained herein to be at least interesting, and perhaps helpful to the fledging professional carver or anyone thinking of throwing their hat into the business end of woodcarving.

     From the moment I put the first words on paper, this project began evolving and turned in to a monster.  I would try to put a paragraph at a time together.  Some days I wrote for 10 minutes, other days I sat for a few hours. Soon the paragraphs grew into chapters and it took on a life of its own.  As I was and am still learning, I will never feel like I have done enough with it. My better half told me that while I was busy researching and writing this, what I wasn’t doing was what I was supposed to be doing, carving.  But as in carving, one of the hardest things to learn is when to stop.

It’s a beautiful day, a day just like any other, with a world of possibilities in front of you and somehow it happens. You find yourself with a knife in one hand and a stick in the other.  At first you just mindlessly start whittling away, stripping the bark off.  There is no thought involved as the sharpened knife slips a little way in to the wood.  A small little movement of the wrist and a wood chip falls to the ground.  Who knows how it happens but somewhere on its descent, that one little woodchip changes the world as you know it. Had you understood this then, you would have picked the woodchip up and gently placed it in a protected spot until you had time to run out to the store, get a frame and mount it properly with a small sign underneath it stating the importance of this little slice of wood. A half hour goes by, the little woodchip is now lost among hundreds of other woodchips, covering your lap, your shoes and the ground around you.  Perhaps by now you have a slightly recognizable figure.  A few more minutes, and you stick the blade straight in at the tip, twirl it around and you have just made an eye.  It is that moment when your first eye looks back at you that you think, hey, this is pretty cool!  Look what I made.  And you take your little creation into the house, put it on a shelf and forget about it.

      Eventually your husband, wife or kids come home, or perhaps a friend drops over and they see your little creation.  “Oh, what’s this?  Did you make this?  I didn’t know you knew how to do that.  That is so cool!”  Somewhere, mixed between your pride and humility, a little embarrassment pops its head up.  You see your crude attempt as a bunch of mistakes all jumbled together.  You see how you could have done the head better or how the body proportions are totally off or how your cat looks more like a dog.  As you are soaking up their praise your mind starts to thinking about fixing it or starting all over and making a better one. 

      Perhaps you are dragged against your will, by your significant other to a craft fair or county fair and you come upon a woodcarving exhibit.  After asking permission and picking up one of the items, you see the simplicity of its design and think, hey I can do that!  And then a week later you find yourself out in your garage trying to duplicate what you saw. 

      Or perhaps you are recently retired and spending most of your time just puttering around the house.  A friend asks you to pick them up at the local senior center.  You arrive early and wander around the senior center until you come upon a room where everyone is quietly working.  You are drawn into the room by its peacefulness and by the wonderful smell of the wood.  You inquire into the class’s weekly schedule and with your friends encouragement you make a plan to attend at least one class.

      No matter how your initial introduction to woodcarving happens, you soon realize that you have been bitten.  Even if only in your mind, you start thinking about woodcarving.  You think about getting a better knife or going to find a nice piece of wood somewhere. Everything you look at, even everyday objects becomes inspiration for possible future carvings.

      The origins of woodcarving are lost to history.  It is one of the oldest, if not, the oldest art form. It is debatable whether painting or woodcarving came first, but it is fairly understood, that for as long as man has been using tools, he has been woodcarving.  Most likely the first forms of woodcarving were utilitarian in design.  We know that sticks were whittled down for use as spears and arrows.  Primitive utensils and vessels have also been found. Under the right conditions some ancient woodcarvings have stood the test of time.  

      The oldest known decorative wood carvings come from ancient Egypt, India and China. Through the centuries, Wood carving has been used for architectural detailing, religious items, furniture and personal objects. Wood carving, as with other arts, has been vulnerable to mans whims.  At times the wood carver has been raised to the status of protected and highly sought after artisan.  At other times in history, particularly in Europe, there have been attempts to eradicate the art form.  Carvers secretly toiled away in hidden chambers of monasteries, practicing, protecting and handing down the ancient techniques. With such an old and rich imagined history, I must scratch my head at today’s notion that wood carving is primarily a craft.  It is understandable that woodcarvings utilitarian uses put it in the realm of a craft and the woodcarver as a craftsman, but woodcarving has also been utilized for purely decorative reasons.

Chapter 1


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