Today we're going to take Mr. Peabody's Wayback Machine and go, well, way back. Sculpture in Wood, the book I want to review today, was first published in 1950 by the University of Minnesota Press. The copy I was fortunate to stumble across was printed in 1968. These two dates are somewhat before and after I was a gleam in my father's eye. OK, maybe we're not going way way back, but this is an "older" book. The author, John Rood, was a native of Minneapolis, and, I believe, a professor at the University of Minnesota, but that can't be confirmed. Some of the background stories speak of students of the University of Minnesota, and the University press published two of his books, so his being a professor is an educated guess.
The book has only three instructional projects in it, but those aren't what you buy this one for. You buy this one for the "good read" that it is. The first chapter is "Art is What You Make It" and the second is "Wood as a Material for the Sculptor". These should be a clue as to the flavor of the book, but even the usual woodcarving book chapters "Tools and Their Care" and "Finishing" are good. Considering how much more costly it was to include pictures at the time of its printing, the book is filled with photos, all black and white, carefully placed where he speaks to them and reinforces the ideas being discussed. Many discussions are tied to anecdotes as well as the photos, which makes the book even more enjoyable. They include wood sculptors he's meet, other artist's work, how ideas came to him, how the ideas grew... all woven together for a wonderful picture of wood sculpture as he sees it.
The hardest hitting story was concerning the
wood source for his chapter project on carving a head. It
was sent to him from the Pacific theater of WWII by a young University
of Minnesota graduate who later died there from pneumonia.
You might remember me telling of using quoted gems to lead off
my newsletter articles. This book was one of my standbys.
Like "At times ideas come from everywhere and anywhere -
the shape of a tree, a glance from a fellow bus passenger, the
slouch of a figure, a musical phrase, a picture in a newspaper,
a character in a book: these are the sparks that often light the
A Brief Tour:
Art Is What You Make It
Wood as a Material for the Sculpture
Ideas and Subject Matter
Tools and Their Care
Rasps for Carving in the Round
Carving in the Round
Carving a Head
Carving in Low Relief
How to Use Sculpture
Be forewarned if you go for this one, he is very fond of wood rasps as carving tools, and his holding device is a huge metal worker's bench vice. Lack of imagination in holding devices and lack of color in the photos are the only nits I can pick with the book. Neither are omissions on his part, but products of the times. He faults himself for digression, but you'll find yourself looking forward to the "side trips" every time he takes one.
By today's standards the book is not very good instructionally, but John Rood was working with a handicap. Remember how a picture is worth a thousand words? When this book was produced, it was extremely more costly to include a picture than to write the thousand words. If you're looking for an instructional book, it's less than a three out of five. However, I'm giving it four and half thumbs as a "good read". I liked the stories behind the sculptures, and the thoughtful, knowledgeable, and respectful way he spoke of his subject. If you were to rank a book by how many times it's come down of the shelf since it was purchased, this has to be in my top five. It never fails to inspire me, and I've recommended it to several of my friends without any poor feedback. So it's out of print... how do you get yourself a copy? I found mine in a used book store while on travel in Norfolk, Va. It was pure serendipity. Almost every area still has a used book store, and they're great places to browse, but sometimes hard to locate. Maybe not as enjoyable, but quicker and more efficient than browsing used books stores, are the several book search engines on the Web. Amazon.com, Bibliofind, and Abebooks seem to be the most productive. There are others. Also, there is eBay. In fact, I find eBay to be a much better source of carving books than carving tools.
OK Gang, 'till next time, keep them edges keen, the chips piled high, and may you be "old", but not feel old..
Keep on Carvin'
Mike Bloomquist is a carver and carving teacher, and a regular contributor to WOM.
You may visit Mike's web site, Wooden Dreams Woodcarving HERE or email him at m.bloomquistATverizonDOTnet.