On Carving Wood

My father was a carpenter as were my three uncles and my grandfather before them. Til this day, I remember the “shop” where they worked, the smell of sawdust, of hot glue, the smell of burning wood from the pot bellied stove for heating and cooking. And still with me are the sounds of hammering, of saws cutting, of planes shaving and shaping and the laughter of men working. And the wood, all kinds of hardwood - oak, walnut, cherry, and the soft - poplar, fir and pine each with its own look and qualities for the making of things, speaking to you, telling you what it wants to be. The wood though dead is alive. It warps, expands, cracks, stretches. Its grain or change of grain, is something to contend with and accept. It gives life to the saying – “going against the grain”. And the finishing to bring out the life of the piece – what oils, varnishes, waxes, finishes, or lack there of are wanted. I love the wood and the working of it. It talks to me, and so I appropriately answer it back. I go to the carving with a predetermined image that changes when interfacing with the wood. I feel the interaction of the tool with the wood and the specific eccentricity of the piece being worked on. The final result is from a partnership, a marriage with the wood. Carving bas relief in wood is very much a drawing process.….drawing with the chisel as instrument, relying on light and shadows to define the resulting image. It is a magical doing in that one defines objects in space on a relatively flat surface. It seems a contradiction that one draws with a chisel, an act of taking away to produce a line, a tone, a shadow. An image, unlike drawing, that changes with the change of light or movement of light or of the position of the viewer. To understand wood is to accept its diverse personalities and to allow them to come through.

On Jewish Themes

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