Wood Carving

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Wood is considered to be the most important raw material, being full of warmth and personality. The preoccupation for wood processing can find many explanations, but one of the most plausible is that this material can be used for various purposes with an extreme ease, and its decoration can be made with simple tools (axe, hatchet, chisel, penknife), who don’t suppose any minutely elaborated technologies. Another argument could be represented by the fact that wood was artistically processed by man before the clay, being, therefore, the first material to be decorated. The various techniques used can be: nicking, cutting, pyroengraving, debarking, bending, carving, inlaying.

Nicking is a superficial cut in the timber, being the main technique that brings to this “wood civilization” the superior mark of highly refined artistic achievement, placing the wood objects created by the Romanian craftsmen on one of the heights of the traditional wood-processing art in Europe. With simple tools, the folk craftsman nicked the pieces of oak, walnut, linden, acacia trees or osier, from which he made furniture items, tools and home-use utensils, often covering them with a fine network of decorative motifs.

The clearest classification of wood nicking is made according to the categories of objects it is applied to. The first field is that of folk architecture, wood nicking being applied on the main building-decorative elements of the houses, churches and various outbuildings. Thus, the pillars of the house, the frames of the doors and of the windows are decorated with the tiny geometric motifs, completing the beauty of the carved or sculpted volumes of these architectonic elements. The second field is represented by the various categories of furniture items. Here, the representative pieces are the dowry chests, the tables, some categories of cabinets and cupboards, the chairs and the benches.

The furniture of the old houses was simple, being perfectly fit to its functions. The main traditional decorative motifs are the line, the dots, the spiral, the teeth, the rosette, the cross, the fir tree.  The most important furniture items in the peasant house were the bed, the table, the chairs, the benches, the cupboard, the shelves, the dowry chest. The third field is the one of tools connected with the various traditional Romanian activities.

Among them, we mention: the scythe handles, the spoon handles, the rakes, etc. Then, beautiful nicking work can be seen on the tools used by women: distaffs, spindles, as well as parts of the weaving looms. Among the home-use utensils, together with all kinds of little containers for salt, spices, flour or different boxes, a special place belongs to the spoons whose handles are covered with these wonderful decorations.

Easily processed due to its natural structure, tough, but also relatively light, wood possesses excellent artistic virtues, with subtle and deep chromatic variations. Through these qualities, through its omnipresence and general affordability, wood was and it continues to be used, on a very large scale, both in fine art and in folk art, the latter being much older than the former and, of course, much more wide-spread.

Wood processing is one of the most important fields of folk art, whose exceptional development can also be explained through the abundance of the “once impenetrable forests” that covered this territory. Perhaps nowhere was the creative spirit of the peasants more amply manifested than in this field. The historical conditions, the deep connection of the Romanian people with the forest (“the forest is brother to the Romanian”!) explain the remarkable development of this craft, so that one could speak of a true Romanian “civilization of the wood”.

Their extensive experience in the art of wood processing taught the craftsmen the best use of every wood species:

  • Fir tree and oak tree – in construction works;
  • Beech tree – for dowry chests;
  • Cornel and hazel tree – for shepherds’ clubs and whip handles;
  • Ash tree – for door and window frames;
  • Sycamore maple and linden tree – for distaffs, spoons, flasks and boxes.

From an ornamental point of view, the wood objects try to replace, through their own means of expression, the lack of colour, the craftsmen trying to emphasize the natural qualities of the wood species. From a morphological point of view, one can distinguish between several categories of elements, motifs and ornamental compositions: anthropomorphic, geometric, zoomorphic, phytomorphic, cosmographic, freely drawn or a mix of the above. As anthropomorphic motifs one can identify the realistic representation of two motifs: the hand, shown as a fist, and the human head, motifs that can be seen on the upper part of the shepherds’ clubs.

The anthropomorphic composition created by cutting is frequent, usually showing the shepherd and his sheep in various stances. Among the geometric motifs can be noticed the dents, the spiral and the cut-out circle which makes the connection with the cosmographic elements, ancient decorative motifs such as the rosette or the solar motif in all its versions being often used. One can also see the square, the lozenge, the arc and the rope or the torsade, which create the zoomorphic motifs hidden in the snake or wolf tooth motifs, and among the vegetal ornaments, usually represented in a realistic manner and sometimes in a stylized one, we mention the fir tree branch, the leaf, the cone, the flower.

One of the commonest items, at the same time one of the most diversely ornamented, is the spoon, indispensable to any peasant household; their manufacturing goes beyond the sphere of the spoonmaker craft, because their decoration proves a special artistic talent.

Up to a certain point, the decorative repertory of Romanian wood carving is common both to the objects of secular interest and to the objects destined to church use. Thus, the ancient solar rosette, in its various versions, as well as the geometric stylizations, made of broken and curve lines, ingeniously combined in lozenges and circular successions, can also be found in the decorations of the dowry chests and of the royal armchairs, in the decorative fields of the pews and of the church altar doors or of the crosses, proof of the circulation of the techniques and decorative motifs in all the fields of social life in the past.

These motifs, general or particular, are still being used by the folk craftsmen from the Horezu area and from other regions of Romania.

They will pass on this ancestral heritage to the young people, who will discover the joy of an art that means both continuity and evolution.

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