Monday 9 July 2018
When did you start to carve?
My Norwegian maternal grandfather was part of our extended family when I was growing up. One of my fondest memories of him is often sitting on our back porch carving, which he did frequently. At the age of five, he gave me a pocket knife and started me carving by having me shave the bark off a small poplar branch about eighteen inches long and an inch thick. My first lesson: shave from the top of the growth down and you won't cut so deeply into the wood. I've carried a knife in my pocket ever since.
What made you continue carving?
This early appreciation of wood shared with my grandfather and how it can be formed with a simple, sharp edge sparked an artistic enthusiasm and direction all through my school years. My mother's nurturing encouragement of diverse youthful artistic offerings was also very important. Part of my military service in the US Coast Guard was spent ten miles off shore on a lighthouse for eighteen months which afforded plenty of time to continue honing carving skills. It was after college that I had the opportunity to study formally in Brienz, Switzerland. This experience convinced me to carve professionally as a career.
What inspires you when you carve?
I'm inspired by the many excellent carvers working today and those of antiquity who have left their work in both stone and wood to be studied and admired. I am also inspired by the endless variety of forms found in nature, particularly foliage.
What are you currently working on?
It's never been a single project at a time for me. My daily schedule is a wonderfully busy soup of carving commissions, creating new pieces, writing, teaching, and study. Growth, knowledge and inspiration come from work, observation and study.
Which tool wouldn't you be without and why?
This is an easy question as I use only two knives when carving in the style in which I generally specialise. It would be the cutting knife I designed which does the bulk of the work. The blade configuration, its downward angle approaching the wood, the comfortable handle – they all conspire when held to make every cut a pleasant experience.
Which is your preferred style of carving and why?
While I enjoy a broad spectrum of carving styles as well as working with the tools used in their execution, chip carving has always held a fascination for me for several reasons. Its application may be considered a functional style of woodcarving. Be the designs simple or elaborate, chip carving is a decorative style meant to enhance the appearance of many everyday objects used around the house, from serving trays to furniture. They are items that already exist, rather than being formed by chip carving. Also, the tools used are generally very few. I use only two knives. Though the designs may appear complicated to some, the actual carving process moves along quite quickly. Finally, chip carving is a style that is easily learned by anyone wanting to carve wood. For these reasons, chip carving is most rewarding and accessible.
What do you think has been your biggest carving achievement?
Through the years, my career has enjoyed a number of milestones for which I have been most grateful, including having my work in a special exhibition in the Swiss National Museum in Zurich, Switzerland. However, I would consider my most personal achievement to be writing seven books on chip carving and sharing what I've learned through teaching. It is my contribution to the art form that has given me so much.
Whose work do you most admire?
There is a very long list of carvers working today and from yesteryear that I hold in high esteem. However, there is a carver by the name of Anonymous who's been around for centuries and has done fabulous work, but has never received the personal recognition he so richly deserves. His work is voluminous and extraordinary.
If you weren't a carver what would you be?
I've always had a passion for music and have played non-serious keyboards since a very young age. The tonal variations available with eighty-eight keys carry as many musical possibilities as do designs in chip carving. If I wasn't carving, the fantasy is playing ragtime, stride and boogie-woogie in dives and riverboats wherever they can be found.
Describe the view from your work bench and the area where you live
I live in the quiet, tree-lined town of Park Ridge, a suburb of Chicago. After the great Chicago fire of 1871, Park Ridge enjoyed a reputation as home to a very popular artist's colony numbering some of the best known artists in America, drawn from a broad spectrum of disciplines. My studio is in our 101 year old Victorian home, built by the third major of the town. The studio is small by design with an abundance of natural sunlight encouraged by huge windows. The evening sunsets from this vantage point are spectacular.
Do you like to listen to music when you carve?
Music, primarily classical, can often be heard emitting from my studio. However, equal time is dedicated to silence, which allows unrelated and unexpected thoughts and ideas to wonder randomly together without purpose or interruption in my awareness.
Who or where would you most like to carve for?
I am probably as excited to carve for those who offer commissions as they are to receive them. But more so is the thrill of giving as a gift my work when it is neither solicited nor expected. It is a form of sharing love.
Are you a self-critic of your work?
It is hard to imagine an artist who is not his greatest critic. Praise from others may be a warm fuzzy feeling, but it teaches nothing. Only the honest, hard edge of self-examination and inspection of one's own work will bring about the recognition and understanding necessary for growth and improvement.