The Reason for Using Wood

Mankind has always had a dependence on wood. It is the most common substance that we use next to the earth itself. Throughout the years of man's history it has been a potent source of comfort: heat, shelter, tools, benches and transportation. There is hardly a field of activity in which wood does not play a part.

What is more natural than for a man to use such a versatile material as a medium in which to express his love of form and line and shape? In imagination we can go back into the past and see man using wood to his immediate advantage-the first wheel, the first means of water transport, the first fire, the first place to sit off the cold of stone or earth. Even today we can find primitive men using wood for these elemental needs. What is more logical than to expect that man should resort to this most plentiful material as a means of expressing himself in tangible form-a way to embellish things?

In our "sophisticated world" of today we still use wood for many of our comforts. Of course, people who must be "different" won't agree that wood has a place in the field of design, of decoration, of utility. I am old-fashioned enough to think that wood has its place in these fields. How else can we feel-those of us who love wood for its versatility, its beauty, its feel-when we look out of doors and see the beauty in each tree across the field? When people are surrounded by the forests, it is natural to presume that they are inspired to use this common means to tell a story. Give a small boy a jackknife and watch him whittle out "something." Give a man a jackknife and he, too, whittles out "something." Give a wood carver a shaped tool and he also will whittle out "something."

This love of making something of beauty for beauty's sake goes far back into the history of man. Someone has said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For my part, I think that beauty is in the eye and mind of the creator, the worker, the artisan who makes things from the material at hand. The results can be called "art," I suppose. However, I like to think that I make things because I have a small gift of tool manipulation. Other people like the sort of work I do. They call it "art." I call it wood carving and let it go at that. The art of wood carving, then, is a form of expression that lets me use my small skills, imagination, and love of line to express some of the feeling I have for the medium in which I have chosen to work. I let off steam in some of my carvings about the encroachment on our liberties and freedoms by the unthinking and those trying to impose their privilege upon us.

The Viking ships, Phoenician galleys, Roman men-of-war, Chinese junks, American clipper ships and modern yachts are all expressions of men's attempts to use wood for their own purposes. When any of these craft was built, the desire to add something to their undoubted beauty of line inspired the builders to embellish the hulls fore and aft with some greater form of beauty. The stern transoms, the bow and even the catheads were logical places to add bits of fancy work such as scrolls and banners, figureheads and cartouches.

The result was not "to gild the lily," but to enhance the already created beauty of the vessel. There can be humor in the work of wood carvers. Some years ago Life magazine had some pictures of two miserere. One was a man beating his wife. I forget the other. Nevertheless, the ancient craftsman who made these two carvings had undoubtedly spent months, probably years, carving pew ends, altar screens, rood screens and the Lord knows what else. Suddenly he made up his mind that there should be some slight bit of levity in the seriousness of his work and where better to hide his humor than under the seat of the mighty?

There are some of us who see beauty in the hard lines of mathematics as expressed in the stark, unadorned lines of our modern architectural forms. I can appreciate the magnificent sweep and curve of the George Washington Bridge, the splendor of the United Nations Buildings, the great sweep of the high, vaulted ceiling of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. In the Cathedral, however, the mathematical certainty of line and form is warmed and becomes more intimate for me because of the wonderful woodwork that patient hands and years of time have created. Without this warmth and intimacy of a common substance, the starkness of the stone and the mathematics would be awe inspiring but not soul lifting.

Hence, wood to me is the living expression of beauty. What I do to it is tinged with this same feeling. Nature's patient years went into its making. Who are we, in the hurry and bustle of this world, to take other than patient time to say in wood what words fail to say?

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