Wood carving a fashionable accomplishment for the young girl of today
When, with refreshing prodigality, a young society woman of New York presented a half dozen fall brides with trousseau chests, richly sculptured, the work of her own hands, she little realized how popular the work was destined to become. The novelty of the thing started such a craze in the ranks of young girls as to monopolize all their leisure moments, even serious pursuits being temporarily abandoned in order to give time to the work.
Once undertaken, the charm of the craft is its own stimulus, for, besides carrying one into the realm of really good art, no other expenditure of labor offers more abundant opportunity for making beautiful and enduring things for the home. Moreover, it is work in which the question of age does not enter, for, according to an expert woodcarver, whose studio is the rendezvous for the devotees of the craft, a girl of twelve can become quite as proficient as a woman of forty.
Not all the young girls have started in at once carving such ambitious things as bridal chests, though according to Karl von Rydingsvard, whose pupils are to be found the world over, it is quite as possible to begin with a chest as anything else, for there are innumerable designs, those from the Norseland, for example, in which the broad lines and sweeping scrolls typical of this style are wonderfully effective, even though crudely done.
A linen chest, decorated with a design of this sort, has just been completed by a young girl, though she has no expectation of immediately utilizing it for that purpose. In following that quaint old custom of providing herself with a linen dowry she is simply proving herself particularly forehanded.
With the true spirit of the craftsman scores of these young girls, enveloped in their long work aprons, work daily over their benches, handling the mallet with as much skill and dexterity as seasoned woodworkers. One great beauty of the work is that much of it can be done at home, where the fitting up of a workshop need not necessarily interfere with the comfort or convenience of other members of the family.
“To do wood sculpturing at home is by no means such an undertaking as some would have us believe,” explained Karl von Rydingsvard. “It is wholesome work and clean, for, though the shavings do litter up a room a bit, they are easily removed without injury to the carpet. Or if desired, it is an easy matter to lay down a sheet beneath the bench, which, when the work is over, can be gathered up and emptied.
“It is quite necessary that the home worker have a bench, as an ordinary deal table is quite too low. A bench of any rough wood, say 38 or 39 inches high and 24 inches long by 18 wide, can be knocked together by a carpenter for $2 or $3.
“Of course, you want to know about the tools with which a beginner should start. Twelve are quite sufficient, for, though there are more than one hundred in use by an expert woodcarver, beginners, doing simple work, require only simple tools.
“It is of the greatest importance to have the tools well chosen, and no one who has not carved before can make the best selection. It perhaps may be wisest for the instructor to take this responsibility at first. Afterward the worker will know better what she wants. One important thing to remember is that a woodcarver’s tools must be sharpened quite differently from those of a carpenter. Furthermore, they are never properly sharpened when they come from the shop.
“Besides the twelve tools mentioned, which can be bought in a shop for about $5 or $6, there should be two carriage clamps for fastening the work to the bench, and a wooden mallet. A wooden potato masher will answer very well in lieu of the regular article if desired. It has been said that a good workman always takes care of his tools. This is a point to be borne in mind by the woodcarver. Given good tools, she should see to it that they are kept in good condition. When not in use, the tools should be kept in a case which is made for the purpose, of heavy brown linen, strongly bound with tape. Pockets are stitched with places for each tool, which when filled can be rolled and tied securely, making a not unwieldy package.
“Now we come to the woods used. You have heard, perhaps, of that unique story of the Woodcarver of Olympus, who, a confirmed invalid, lay on his bed while he carved the most ravishing things from branches cut off of the trees from out his window. Now, don’t get an idea that when one wants wood for carving all that is necessary is to go out in the back yard and cut a branch off. That is a beautiful fallacy.
“Every bit of wood used in sculpturing must be perfectly seasoned for the purpose. There are very few woods used for the purpose. Oak and mahogany are perhaps those most suitable and best liked. First, find out what you are going to make, then decide on the wood, after that pick out the design. If oak is selected, the ordinary quartered wood is the best, as it is softer and more porous. This can be bought for from eighteen to twenty cents a square foot.
“Some surprise is expressed by amateurs at the color of mahogany in its raw state, as the commercially finished product is generally quite dark. It is stained to insure a more uniform color. This is not to be said of the Colonial mahogany, which has turned dark from age, not from the application of any coloring matter.
“Once the wood is decided upon and the sort of article one wants to make, the next step is to go to the cabinet maker to have it made up, Both ends and sides must be fitted and grooved, but neither nailed nor glued, for the parts must be carved separately, the final assembling being done after the carving is finished.
“This is one thing that I insist upon in my pupils, that they shall keep their eyes open. It takes but a short while after one begins to carve to see the many beautiful specimens of wood sculpturing here in New York. From such observations I urge beginners in the craft to draw their own designs. This suggestion usually meets with opposition at first. Experience, though, soon shows them it is quite possible. An original design is of so much more value than one drawn for them.
“Next, of course, the beginner will want to know how to proceed once the design has been drawn. There is a certain trick about this. In the paper pattern the design, usually divided in four parts, has one motif, which is used four times in different positions. One quarter of the design, say, has been drawn in. Fold a sheet of carbon paper so that one side will lie against the wood, the other beneath the design. With a pencil trace the design carefully, bearing on with sufficient force to make the tracing. It will be found that not only has the impression been made on the wood but on the wrong side of the paper. Turn the paper over and from that impression made transfer the design to the opposite quartering (imaginary) of the wood. In the lower half the two motifs may again be transferred.
“Using the two carriage clamps, the wood to be carved is then clamped to the bench. Next with a big fluter and a mallet the background it routed out, following the lines of the design closely. This leaves standing a series of promontories, peninsulas and the like, which constitute the unit of the design. Upon these the real sculpturing is done.
“It is best to set the work bench against the window not only to get the light, but to prevent the work from moving. One should always bend from the hips with the shoulders well thrown back in working. This develops the chest and arms.
“One question that is invariably put to me is, ‘How long will it take?’ Naturally this is a rather trying question, for it all depends upon the amount of home work the pupil is willing to do, how fast she improves. By taking two lessons of three hours each a week, in additions to doing an hour of home work, it shouldn’t take a girl long to become very clever in the art of wood carving. One girl with six lessons and home work carved a bridal chest in eight days. Another who worked spasmodically might take as many months. It all depends upon the girl herself, her aptitude and persistence.
“Another point of interest is the cost of the article to be carved. The cabinet work, say on a photograph frame, with the wood included, would not be more than $1. A bridal chest five feet long of some ordinary wood, with the dovetailing and paneling, would cost in the neighborhood of $25. Of oak or mahogany it would be $3 or $4 more.
“Wood carving differs from almost any other art or craft in that the raw materials on which the work is done has a grain. Neither marble, leather, nor, indeed, any other art material has this characteristic, while in one square foot of wood the grain will sometimes run as many as fifty ways. It is impossible to explain inch by inch the handling of the tools, One must gain that knowledge as she goes along.”