Wednesday, 29 February 2012


Erhard Schoen, The Unfinished Man. Woodcut, 1533

The German chapter of BTWC is now up and running from its base in Frankfurt am Main. Germany is well known for its skilled renaissance lime-wood sculptors and we are glad to see BTWC-FaM continuing the tradition.

Hans Multscher, Virgin and Child, 1435-40

Monday, 27 February 2012

Axes in Australia

After the Swedish spoon carver, another craft video, more "skills pornography".

Sunday, 29 January 2012

n u d e s

The human form, untroubled by clothes, has been the subject of endless artistic endeavour, and abundant critical thought. We need only mention the works of classical antiquity alongside the anamorphotically modulated effigies of any regional culture you might care to mention, Igbo to Hopi, to give the reader an idea of the range of gazes that have fallen upon the nude, and taken up tools in response. As in geometry and calculus, tracing the nude reduces structures in space to an elemental level -- the extent of greater or lesser degrees of curvature, an extremum here, a point of inflection there, form is considered in the purest terms.

Big thanks to Erika and Patrick for having our 18th meeting in their house. Nudes proved a fecund subject for carving, as you may see below.

Swedish Spoon Carving

If you are prone to trawling the net with certain keywords in mind and in search engine (whittling, greenwood carving, etc.), you might be forgiven for feeling that the discipline of spoon carving is, to use the term of William Gibson, at a nodal point. Some confluence of events, zeitgeist, advertisements, internal realisations, leads to the emergence of a micro-trend. A decade or so of Ray Mears on the telly and a furtive wish to get "back to the land" are two of the identifiable ingredients that have led a remarkable number of middle-aged men (give or take a few years, and, unfortunately, they are almost all men) to spend a hundred quid on an axe and a few knives. I know this because they've made blogs.

It's a good thing, I think, and interesting that today it is a consumer-choice-identity-statement to purchase items that would have been in every house one hundred years ago. That much is a truism of late-capital.

Every time someone (me) starts moaning about the latest cycling trend, I can't help but find some zero-level happiness that more people are on bikes. Likewise the new spoon men. A good tool is a good investment, especially if it involves supporting some of the smaller and more interesting forges -- Gränsfors Bruks, Svante Djärv, Ben Orford, Ray Iles spring to mind. Provided they don't chop down too many trees, the worst case scenario is a stockpile of high quality steel for after the apocalypse.

Here is a video from a Jubilee Fair in Sweden, 1923. I suppose it would have been shown as a newsreel before films, something like that. The crafts shown were being presented with an air of nostalgia and pastoral nationalism (cf. Knut Hamsun over the border in Norway). Already at that time, industrial processes were coming to occupy the minds of Swedish designers. The clip of a man carving a spoon illustrates perfectly the point that it is always worth watching a master at their craft. Note the various techniques, different axe and knife grips, supporting the work with the chest, armpit, knee, and his little leather chest apron; a richness of experience and muscle-memory. There is much to be learned from these two minutes of footage.

A longer video from the same newsreel, with chair and clog making, can be found here.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Brasstown Carvers

Nolan, J.A., Avery & Pearlie

Ray, Douglas, Dub, Tom, Rome

In 1925 the two ladies Olive Dame Campbell and Olive and Marguerite Butler opened a folk-school in Brasstown, North Carolina, with the aim of supporting and nourishing the local Appalachian folk arts. In the 1930-40 the school became especially known for the products made by its whittlers. Although mostly men were carving at first, women eventually picked it up too, and soon big parts of the local population were producing hand-carved goods. It is said that some families even earned a bigger income carving rather than farming.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Envelope of rotten wood

Envelope of rotten wood
ca. 323 B.C.-A.D. 256
Maker: Unknown