Maybe… just maybe… not all the time there is a spoon hidden within the wood. Maybe sometimes there is an old spirit within the grains ,with eyes looking back at you, or a flower ready to bloom or even a twisted old oak tree or an owl or too.
Sometimes you feel the need to change things up and do something different…. but yet still the same. One thing that pops up when searching wood carving, are tree spirits. Something I always found just so majestic and fascinating. I had no idea they have such a deep rooted history.
Wood spirits began with the beginning of time. Most tribal and cultural people of the world believed in these spirits in one form or another. Some stories say they lived among the trees and if you were lucky enough to glimpse one it would bring good luck and fortune. Other cultures believed rather then living among the trees, they lived within the trees themselves. The wood spirits are what made everything grow, and they protected the forest and animals within.
Wood spirits carry many names depending on the culture including; Green-man, Wild-man, Earth-makers. It was told that wood carvers from these cultures looked for a face, animal, or other character that they saw embedded in the grain of the wood. Then they worked on “releasing” it. How did these spirits get there? Some thoughts were the spirits inhabit the trees of the forest from the very beginning. Others believe the spirits are ancestors that have returned to earth in one of its many forms.
In ancient times and today even, spirits are not carved into the wood but released from it. I love this thought and concept, and it fits so nicely with utilizing the natural form of the wood’s twists and turns. Roots become long strands of beard. Branches are really an out stretched arm reaching for something unforeseen. Its all about something within seeking to be known. Seeing what is really in the wood… hiding in the grains… just waiting to be seen and brought forth. Not a hidden spoon anymore but a hidden spirit waiting to be discovered.
It sounds so easy right? One book that was helpful for me and goes through a step by step guide until you have a solid base to start creating your own is Tom Wolfe Carves Wood Spirits and Walking Sticks by Tom James Wolfe. It definitely takes practice carving wood spirits and being able to work with the structures given to you by the tree, but what a feeling to see something beneath the grain emerge from the wood in the final product. I hope to do a follow up post on my improved skills of bringing out these spirits whether it be an old grouchy owl, a blooming flower or a pair of eyes. But knowing the origins behind what you are trying to create adds some magic to that carving knife and it seems so much more than whittling a face into a stick when you know the story behind it.