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Steff Rocknak: Carving "The Philosopher"


Editor's Note:

In this issue we welcome Stefanie Rocknak to the page of Woodcarver Online Magazine. I have been watching Steff's intriguing work via her web site for several years now and am pleased to have her finally bless the pages of this publication.

Stefanie Rocknak works out of her home studio in Oneonta, NY. Steff earned an B.A. from Colby College in Painting, Art History and American Studies in 1988, and followed with a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Boston University. She is currently a philosophy professor at Hartwick College, Oneonta, NY.

Steff writes: "My work is influenced by the wood carvings done throughout the Medieval period, although my figures tend to be contemporary. I attempt to capture certain features of the human condition, disturbing or not."

Steff has received a number of awards for her woodcarving, including several for "Figurehead," a stunning piece carved from material left over from the Amastad project

You may view "Figurehead" and a number of other of Steff's pieces at her web site at http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Exhibit/9714/

In this article Steff introduces us to several of her recent pieces. First,"The Philosopher:"

From the beginning, I knew that this piece had to be a pregnant woman; Socrates once said he was a midwife, but as I read it, he was a midwife to himself. This figure is clothed because, as a matter of principle, I do not carve naked or nude women - enough already abound in the history of art.

"The Philosopher" is the second sculpture in a triptych, where the other two pieces consist of "The Academic" (complete), and "The Artist" (incomplete).

At this stage I have cut around a rough outline of the figure. I begin most of my pieces this way.


("The Philosopher" is ~ 12' high, including the base and background.)



Here, I have begun to work all 3 dimensions up. Although a figure's body position can be changed after this point, it is best to make these decisions now.



At this point, I bring out the features still more, including the head and face. I find that liberally dumping wood oil (such as lemon oil or orange oil) onto the carving helps; the wood does not tear or split.



At this stage the detail really begins to emerge. In particular, I have established the final position of the fingers. However, work needs to be done behind the lower legs, feet, and back (part of the figure, however, will not be separated from the background). It is important to maintain the spirit of the piece while bringing out the detail; the whole must emerge through the parts.



The feet have begun to emerge here; particularly, the position of the toes has been established. I have also begun to smooth the larger carving marks away (with a flat carving tool).



This next series of photos each offer a different perspective. In this photo, some of the detail of the chest area and hands is visible. In the final piece, the robe will be more articulated and the skin will be sanded.



Here, you can see that she is holding her stomach with her hands. She is intended to look slightly uncomfortable, yet resolved.



A closer view of the face and upper chest. I have begun to sand the skin at this point. The background will help to link this piece to "The Academic" and "The Artist."



Full view of this stage. In the final piece, the lower background will have faces, and the upper background will have directional (carved) marks.



Close up of the feet. Using the wood oil helps to carve out the toenails.



Close up of the hands. Again, the wood oil is helpful when carving such small, detailed areas.




To view Steff Rocknak's "Old Woman" click HERE.