I've just got back from a couple of weeks in Europe. My wife loves to go there for the art, the scenery, the markets, the food, the vino and the history. Me, I like to go there to crawl around under church pews, to crick my neck trying to spot carvings on timber framed houses, to be the guy laying on the floor taking pictures of an ornamented chair leg while everyone else is drooling over Rembrandts and to be the fellow who barely notices the magnificent stained glass of Chartres Cathedral because I'm mesmerized by the tiny roses carved into the stone columns.
I confess, I absolutely love the wood and stone carving of the medieval and renaissance period! Whenever I start to think I am getting pretty good at what I do, a quick look at some carvings done by the artists of medieval Europe puts me well and truly back in my place and vividly illustrates the distance I have yet to travel!
But it isn't just the masterworks of the medieval church carver which inspire. The 'folk' carvings of the Barvarian and Tirolean Alps never fail to dazzle me with their exhuberance and virtuosity. Scarcely any wooden object was left unadorned and the result is an exciting legacy of chip carving which is still practiced by adherents around the globe today.
What I really like about wandering around Europe though, is that wood carving seems to show up everywhere. This picture was taken of a shop door in a Parisien fashion arcade. Although the picture doesn't do it justice, the work was exquisite. If there was some of this kind of stuff at the fashion stores here in Canada, my wife would have a fighting chance of getting me to go shopping with her once in a while!
I know that many carvers out there struggle with finding designs to inspire them and they especially find imagining their own patterns very difficult. I'm not too much different in that respect but I have found that by continually keeping my eye peeled for little gems like this, I have managed to vastly expand the repertoire of ideas I have to draw on during the design process. This simple little detail from a confessional is absolutely captivating and will definitely find its way into one of my designs some day soon. It may get altered a bit, but it is such an elegant form that I can't wait to find a way to carve it! To have this kind of inspiration available almost everywhere one looks really does make a trip to Europe more than worthwhile for a carver. And did I mention the beer? Ahhhh, the beer!
I'll conclude my little travelogue with this last picture from Chartres Cathedral (I was exaggerating for effect earlier, I did notice the stained glass!). This, for me, was the absolute highlight of my European trip! Although hard to see in this pic (as it is in real life) there is a tiny frog carved onto the stone column. His head has been broken off at some point, but his torso and limbs remain. Representing a staggering amount of extra work for the carver, this little frog was likely carved here for the sole purpose of supplying some whimsical beauty for the observant viewer. What a delight he must have been for eagle eyed children (and adults) over the years. And what a modest, quiet and yet powerful illustration of the beauty of carving!