The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Wood carving

 

The carving of designs into wood or the carving of objects out of wood.

 

Status Currently viable
Craft category  Wood
Historic area of significance  UK
Area currently practised  UK
Origin in the UK
Minimum no. of craftspeople required  51-100
Current no. of trainees  11-20 There are currently 17 British Woodcarvers’ Association members aged under 25 who are learning the skills
Current no. of skilled craftspeople  21-50
Current total no. of craftspeople  51-100

 

History

Wood carving dates back to when we learned how to make sharp tools. The earliest examples are lost to the decay of the material. Some may consider that wood carving achieved its pinnacle in the UK in the late-17th century with the naturalistic style of Grinling Gibbons and his contemporaries. There have however been exceptional carvers in all the periods between then and now.

Wood carvers today fall into two groups, amateur and professional. The amateur or hobbyist carving group is thriving with many participants taking it up in later life. This group depends solely on their own enthusiasm. The professional group has been in decline in the early-21st century.

 

Techniques

The art or skill of wood carving can be simply put as the removal of surplus wood using variously sharped hand tools. Woodcarving is usually done using a knife (one hand) or a chisel (two hands), and results in a wooden figure or figurine, or in sculptural ornamentation of a wooden object.

 

Local forms

There are regional variations in the styles of carving. These are generally considered the difference between metropolitan and rural carving within any given style. There are exceptions of specific objects such as Welsh love spoons etc.

 

Sub-crafts

  • Drawing
  • Modelling
  • Joinery
  • Cabinet making
  • Chair making

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

The professional group of woodcarvers has been in decline in the early-21st century. This is due to:

  • Changing tastes: The lack of decoration required for the current vogue in interior design and the collapse of the general antiques trade; the former being a major source for new works and the latter that for restoration. Both areas (new work and restoration) amongst others such as ecclesiastical or heraldic carving are still active but to a lesser degree and so support fewer craftspeople.
  • Foreign competition: Much of the basic repetitive work is now carved overseas in places where incomes and the cost of living are low. This proves problematic when considering training and having the confidence that the volume of work will be consistent to employ the trainee.
  • Training issues: The apprenticeship regime broke down and disappeared in the 1960s. This had been of seven years duration and had included tuition in drawing and modelling. The term ’improver’ was applied to apprentices. Apprenticeships are being re-introduced but are far shorter, three years at most, and leave the apprentice with much experience to be gained before they can be fully considered a professional carver. The Master Carvers’ Association (MCA) and other interested parties formed the National Working Group for carving under the auspices of the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB). This group developed the National Occupational Standard (NOS) for carving in both wood and stone. At the MCA’s request Cskills Awards (CITB) now offers a level 3 NVQ Diploma for carving. This is presently the first and only in-work qualification for carving.
  • Cost: Hand-carved decoration can be expensive and time is money.
  • Lack of awareness: Sponsors have limited knowledge of the workings of woodcarvers versus current technical innovations. Potential clients have poor understanding of what is possible, e.g. decoration being designed out of projects because the designer is unaware of the skills available.
  • Advances in CNC routing and latterly 3D printing.

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

 

Other information

 

References

  • Master Carvers Association