Friday, July 30, 2010

The Woodcarver's Art

Anyone who has read this blog with any regularity (both of you) will know that I have this love affair with wood working. For me it has always held more of a fascination than marble or stucco, as wonderful as they are. Perhaps because, to my mind at least, unlike the other two, wood is a living breathing thing. Of course Rome is the wrong city to be in for wood; this is a city of marble and plaster in baroque perfusion. So I am always intrigued when I come across examples of the wood carvers art. And even more intrigued when it is art created by someone I know.

Felice, a work colleague, came into my office a few weeks back to share a few pictures with me. He is both a gentleman and a gentle man and as I discovered a man of great talent. He has taken up wood carving and is largely self-taught in the art. The photos he shared with me were of two pieces he carved as gifts for Canadian friends.

This beautiful sheathed dagger was created from two different pieces of olive wood. The darker piece is older – perhaps over a hundred years old if not more – and had been sitting in a friend's yard for a long time when Felice discovered it. It was exactly the wood he had been looking for – a fitting contrast to the lighter coloured piece of young olive that he had found one day on a mountain near Monte Cassino.

As he told me often the search for the right piece of wood can be a task in itself. Though he had a basic design in mind he says the wood – the grain, the bend, the shape - eventually dictated the form that the dagger and sheath took. Even as he works on a piece he finds that his concept will change almost as if the wood itself is telling him what is in it.
To bring up the grain in the wood he hand rubbed it with linseed oil with particularly beautiful results in piece carved from the older wood. Felice spoke about how only natural oils or waxes should be used on wood, not only to bring up the grain and enrich the colour but to allow it to breath. Holding a beautiful piece of oiled or waxed wood is a tactile experience that is missing when it has been sealed with varnish, shellac or urethane.

This small mask was carved from a piece of African chestnut - a hard wood often used in flooring and though similar in appearance not a relative of the North American variety. It is not the easiest material to work with but at the time Felice was still new at wood carving and he liked the colour and grain. Though it proved a difficult medium he treated it as part of the experience of learning his craft - I think with great success.

Another thing he learned while creating this pieces was that when carving a face it is better to work symmetrically. He began by completing one side of the face and then the other – working as it were vertically. After he had worked on it a while he realized that this method had its drawbacks - it would have been easier to work horizontally.

I find it interesting to see the development of the mask as it is traced in these photos from its rough concept through to its completed state. The finish on this particular piece was beeswax - again a subtle highlighter of the grain, colour and more importantly the life in the wood.

I always find it remarkable that an artist - and Felice is an artist - can take a piece of wood and in it find the inspiration for pieces like this. I'm looking forward to him sharing more of his work with me so I can share it with you.

30 luglio - San Pietro Crisologo


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6 comments:

YELLOWDOG GRANNY said...

that is incredible...so beautiful..i always wanted to work in wood..just no talent..sigh*
but he sure does.

Anonymous said...

These are lovely pieces. He certainly has technique. And I agree with you about wood being a lovely medium - although I do have a thing for alabaster too.
CP

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Felice has a real gift! Beautiful work!

Minnie said...

As I share your passion for wood in general and wood-carving in particular (my home was full of these), I found this post fascinating. The use of natural oils is, indeed, obligatory for those who respect this warmest and most tactile of mterials. I miss being surrounded by turned wood and being able to look up at beams, so shall be back to feast on your next post about Felice's beautiful work.

Elvira said...

Felice has a great Talent and these photographs of his work is testament to that. Elvira

Mitchell is Moving said...

Beautiful and an inspiration. I've always wanted to take up wood-carving (did a bit when I was in my teens). But once I become confident I become careless with sharp instruments. I wonder if Gortex gloves would be of use!