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  "Us Carvers"

by Gerry Holzman

Review by Mike Bloomquist


Us Carvers Cover First off, an apology to my readers (all three of you) for my sparse contributions to WOM over the past couple of years.  I’ve been recently tempted aside by other activities.  Hopefully my writing and woodcarving hasn’t suffered for it.  Anyway, I hope this is a treat for you here on my return.  This book, Us Carvers, by Gerry Holzman, was a bit hard to acquire, but, in the end well worth the effort.   At the Artistry in Wood about three years ago a fellow woodcarver dropped off a photocopied ad from Chip Chats announcing this book and describing it as an account of the auth or’s correspondence and friendship with the woodcarver Gino Masero.  Not to snub the author, but it was his friend’s name that immediately caught my interest.  In a previous review written for the book Elements of Woodcarving authored by Chris Pye, two of the final chapters were dedicated to carvers who had greatly influenced the author.  Gino Masero was one of them.  Unfortunately I did snub Mr. Pye in that review, because the one carvings in Elements that was noted specifically was a soulful piece of St. Francis of Assisi playing the violin (actually two sticks).  I was eager for another view of the wood sculptor Masero.

A friendly warning… this book is chiefly a “good read” and has very little woodcarving instruction it except on a higher “philosophy of woodcarving” level.  Actually,
Elements in Woodcarving was a “good read” as well, so this should encourage you if you enjoyed that book like I did.  In Us Woodcarvers Mr. Holzman describes his friendship with Gino Masero through personal experiences, excerpts from correspondence,  excerpts from the author’s copy of Masero’s unpublished autobiography, together with a generous sprinkling of appropriate quotes of writers the friends shared a liking for.  Here’s the table of contents together with some of my two cents worth.

- A gentle introduction to the friendship, the joy of correspondence through airmail stationery, and some computer bashing.

How Do These Things Happen?
- What brought the author to woodcarving as a possible new career and how that in turn brought him to Gino Masero.

- Training the hands is only the first step.

Hard by Hadrian’s Wall, We Heard the White Birch Call
- One friend describes a retreat and the other pilgrimage.

- Living in Gino Masero‘s hometown… Visiting his hometown.

A Luverly Day in London Town
- Master and student take a field trip to London.  A foreshadowing of Masero’s being born British, but not feeling truly accepted as British.

The Piper
- A gift to Gerry containing lessons and a friendship constantly being forged.

Just a Couple of Superannuated Schoolboys
- The constant cycle of teacher to student and its inherent immortality (of a sort).

Ital-I-an or English?
- More exploration of Mr. Masero‘s British-not-British paradox.

So Like a Butterfly Emerging
- The transition (for both carvers) from working for a living tgo carving for a living.

- The loss of a teacher and friend.

Chips off the Old Block
- Scraps of wood that didn't fit elsewhere but deserved to be included.

A Valedictory
- A farewell to a friend and woodcarver.

There are so many reasons you need this book this book.  A glimpse into woodcarving as a carreer… history lessons… cultural lessons (contrasts and commonalities)… lessons in friendship… and finally lessons in woodcarving, but not woodcarving project lessons or lessons in woodcarving technique, lessons about the w
oodcarving community. When I got hooked on woodcarving as a hobby, it was through books and videos.  Some of my ulterior motive for writing reviews and occasional how-to pieces was and is to say “Thank you” to the Butzes and Refsals and Pyes and to give back.  I didn’t actually know what “it” was I was giving back to except maybe “the hobby”.  In the chapter
"Just a Couple of Superannuated Schoolboys
" Mr. Holman illustrates several times that "giving back".  In 1995 I went to a small woodcarving show near Amsterdam, NY.  It was a small show with a huge variety of woodcarving styles and categories, and it brought together a wonderful group of people who were very free with the woodcarving knowledge they had.  tThat show started my transformation from woodcarving as a hobby to woodcarving as an addiction.  I’ve wrestled with what it was I ’d stumbled into... a following?… a secret The Piper guild?… a cult?  Over the years the proper term sifted it’s way to the foreground and I feel that “good reads” like Us Carvers and Elements in Woodcarving and others have confirmed it.  The proper term is a woodcarving community, and as long as we’re waxing poetic here, we’re not just members of that community, but we are citizens with the extra responsibilities that term implies.  That's why this book should (and those other "good reads") go in your collection of woodcarving books and why it's just as precious as any technique book it shares space with.

OK, here is where I nit pick... this probably is less of a nit pick and more of a lament that Gino Masero's autobiography is not published in it's entirety.  The quotes from it are used well in this book, but leave you wishing for all of it somewhere.  The next is not a nitpick either, but a full blown fault. (Brief pause whilst Mike climbs up on his soap box.) Right up front in Gerry Holtzman’s book  he bemoans the fact that no one (or very few) folks converse through letters anymore… that it’s a dying art.  I absolutely commiserate with him on the passing of the thin parchment of the airmail letter/and stationary he describes so lovingly. And actual getting letters in the mail trumps just receiving bills and ads.  But I cried “Foul!” while reading about the joy and emotions he received while reading Gino’s letters and then reading his claim “You sure as hell can’t experience emotions like that while reading an e-mail on a glaring electronic screen, even when it’s embellished with a cutesy emoticon “ . Then he further damned e-mail communication claiming hard copy  equally soulless when “the printer spits out Sterility-- a standard e-mail format--and, for good measure, presents it in graceless 10 pt Arial“.
Gerry, may I suggest a 14pt Vivaldi alternative… or perhaps a fine 18pt Edwardian Script?   ;-)

Data overload is
a distinct problem in this brave new “connected” society, but it’s hard to imagine all the woodcarving citizens and friends I would not have currently if weren’t for being “wired”.  The “real world” woodcarving events I would have missed if I hadn’t been connected to the web and learned about those events.  Then there are a huge number of possible “hybrid connections” where a “Web head” woodcarver passes info to a woodcarver who chooses not to be  a part of the data tsunami (and I envy them at times).   And then of course that data flow could play out in the reverse.

Ok… give me a second… ouch!  Sorry, twisted an ankle stepping off the soap box.  Anyway, in spite of the computer hostile sections, this book is a “gotta have” for your library.  If Matt still had the rating system this book would be a 4.5 thumbs up, but alas, that system has gone the way of airmail stationery.  So how do you get a copy.  Well, it’s self published, so you’ll need to contact Gerry.  Here are two possible routes…

His e-mail address from the book is

The snail mail address is:

Gerry Holzman
12A Avenue A
Cambridge, NY 12816

Well Gang, keep them edges keen, the chips piled high, and be good citizens of the woodcarving community.

Keep on Carvin’
-Mike B.->

(Editor's Note - Just for you Mike:)

MikwBMike 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.bloomquistATwoodendreamzDOTnet.