Geoff Davis, Director – Blue Stone Folk School
I came to carving accidentally.
In fact, I never really knew that I was carving until fairly recently.
Out of college I built a few Noah’s Arks. They were fairly large with nice (carve) round three-dimensional hulls. I never made animals because I didn’t think that I knew how to carve.
In building small kayaks and canoes there are always parts that don’t fit until they’ve been shaped and smoothed to fit an odd corner (carving).
I took a printmaking class. We designed what we wanted to print and transfered it to a block of wood. Using sharp tools (carving) we removed the parts that were not be printed.
It was when I built my first ukuleles that I faced carving head-on . Carving the first neck took three days and was as big around as a baseball bat. A few ukes later and a neck could be carved in a little over an hour and feels good to the hand.
With a newly gained confidence I attacked other carving projects.
A canoe paddle. I love paddling. I love good lightweight paddles. I like traditional unusual paddle sizes and designs. These paddles are rarely available here. If they are, the price is dear. One of my favorite paddles is an ottertail pattern that I carved from a lumberyard 2″x8″.
Spoons came next. My wife, Julie loves wooden spoons. She always asks for them at Christmas. One year, when money was tight (when is it not?) I carved spoons for her using logs that I had picked up here and there. She, and a few other special folks, have wooden spoons made from the maple tree that the kids once played in and from the cherry tree that was in my mom’s front yard.
This began a tradition of winter carving. I have a week or two to myself each winter. There’s no money for woodworking materials (We spend much of it on Christmas) so I look to the scrap pile and wood pile for carving materials.
This winter I decided that I wanted to pursue one of my own ethnic traditions. I’ve learned to build Hawai’ian ukuleles and carve Scandinavian spoons. I decided to explore carving birds in the Pennsylvania German (or Pennsylvania Dutch) tradition.
My mother’s mother’s family (The same branch that brought ukulele to the family) were Pennsylvania Dutch from Berks County. Little samples of Pennsylvania Dutch artwork, fraktur and a dowry chest, are a part of my childhood memories.
I went to the first source at hand, Google, to explore the tradition of little polychrome birds.
First I discovered Don Noyes in Ohio. He carves and his wife paints their colorful and whimsical contemporary interpretations of Pennsylvania German birds.
I dug deeper and re-discovered Wilhelm Schimmel. Schimmel tramped throughout central Pennsylvania after the Civil War carving all birds and animals.
I also discovered ”Schtockschnitzler” Simmons working 1885 to 1910 in Berks County, PA (Perhaps he crossed paths with my very young grandmother). He not only carved single birds, but bird trees and walking sticks.
I also discovered a very interesting carver outside the Pennsylvania tradition. Charles Hart was a decoy carver working between Essex and Gloucester, MA (I spent one summer working in the same region). Inspired by Admiral Richard Byrd’s Antarctic explorations in the 1930s he began to carve penguins for the tourist trade. He carved nearly identical penguins in several standard sizes.
The work of all of these artists is highly sought and command impressive prices with collectors.
The work of all these gentlemen has influence my work carving birds. I draw from their sense of style, form and color and make them my own.
An interesting overview of carved birds and other animals can be found here.