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The Return of the British

By Mike Bloomquist

The British are coming! The British are coming! Well, really - they coming back. And OK, it's not an armed force this time, it's really just one Brit woodcarver, but still, he's a moving force in the woodcarving community. Yeah, yeah, I'm on that Ian Norbury thing again. It can't be helped. Besides, it's a safe bet that most anyone else who took a Norbury class during his Fall 2000 tour of the Woodcraft stores would back me up, and tell you it was worth every dollar spent to get there.

Now you folks who missed it have a chance to make up for the error. Following are some personal rambling from my classroom experience with Ian Norbury and his wife Betty, when they visited the Philadelphia, PA Woodcraft store. I could let you off easy and send you right to this link, http://www.iannorbury.com/american_tour_dates.htm, where you can see the class dates that are firmly set for Norbury's Fall 2002 tour. This way you don't have to wade through my blathering to find out about the upcoming tour, but you never know, it might be worth a read anyway.

My class with Ian Norbury, which had been planned for months, did some ominous flipping between "good news" and "bad news" as the class dates got closer:

The Ian Norbury Seminar offered a choice of five projects. Out of ten carvers one did the relief carved eagle's head, two chose to do a woman's head, one carved an elderly man, four took on an in-the-round hawk, and two lecherous carvers went after this female torso project. I was lecher number two (got there late, remember?). I really had no choice with the project. Yvonne (the long-suffering Mrs. Bloomquist) said that after all the raving I did about this guy Norbury as a figure carver that I'd better do something related to the human anatomy or else... At this point she threatened me with my own knives, and well, I won't bore you with details. I offered to see if Ian would let me do a male torso, but she said... ummm... well the conversation kind of degraded at that point, and doesn't belong a family publication like this.

All projects were band sawed out for us and carver clamps were provided by Woodcraft. Yeah, that's 10 lbs of carver's arm I could have left home, sheesh! The clamps were waiting for us, already secured to the tops of several carvers' benches in a workshop classroom. Woodcraft had a very nice set up, and the room was not really that crowded considering the number of woodcarvers.
Despite the rocky start, the "forced" feeling dissipated, and the seminar developed into three days of pure carving heaven. Ian and Betty Norbury are both from England and now live in Ireland.



Left: Mike Bloomquist's Project from Ian Norbury's class. Click here for progress and final photos.



As with most successful couples I've met, they are a team. Through conversations over the weekend you learn that Ian's artistry and craftsmanship and Betty's business and marketing skills compliment each other to a frightening level. Both have published books in their fields, and Betty has organized several gallery shows featuring British artists in woodcraft.

During class it was extremely impressive how Ian seemed to spend just enough time with each of the students, and it seemed to be no effort at all for him to shift gears between all the various projects being worked on in that group. During the seminar I was picking up almost as many teaching techniques as I was carving techniques. Side conversations were frequent, and not always linked rigidly to the business of carving. Thanks to e-mail humor I received earlier in the year, the terms 'recreational sex' and 'dolphins' came into close proximity. This happened during conversations at the end of Saturday's session. Obviously it was time to put the gouges down for the day!

That evening, those that could went out to dinner with the Norburys, and were very glad we did. We traded cultural viewpoints on several levels, intellectual and otherwise. The evening was a great bonus to a really full weekend of carving instruction, and conversations lasted well past dinner and late into the evening.

Towards the end of Sunday's session it was obvious (and intimidating) to me that I was surrounded by some very talented and experienced carvers. Combined with Ian's instruction, there were some master works there. My torso? Well, it looks female, and it looks human, so I was satisfied. From a certain angle it does remind me of this Rumanian lady's shot putter I once... well that's a story for another time!

To cap off the seminar, Ian gave a slide presentation of his carvings to date. Where his earlier works were carved from a single piece of wood, later works are assembled from several pieces of differing wood species. Many carvings included metals, crystal and other materials. In all of his examples you could easily see where breaking with the one-piece-of-wood philosophy enhanced the work's strength, durability, and variety of color. Many of his most recent works included acrylic colors painted on the wood as well. I'm normally not a fan of painting woods with beautiful grains, but could not imagine any of these being somehow better if left as natural wood only.

Even then, early in that Fall 2000 tour, the Norburys were planning to return to the US for another tour in a couple years. Guess what?! It is two years later, and they're coming. Even if you cannot make it to a class, from Ian's website it seems they are open to scheduling visits to local woodcarving clubs near the tour route. Maybe you can get them to swing by for a club meeting and an evening of Ian's slide show. It is well worth it! (Hey Matt! Can I give Ian and Betty the five thumb salute here? Please, huh, can I? Gotta love them thumbs!)

Well Gang, keep them edges keen, the chips piled high, and don't forget I gave you an easy out in the first paragraph.
Keep on Carvin'

-Mike Bloomquist->

Editor's Note: (Big West-Of-Ireland sigh!) I just can't say "No" to teary eyed ladies and groveling writers. Well, OK, sometimes I can say "NO!" to groveling writers, but here's the 5 Thumbs Up any ways, for the Norbury's willingness to come across the Big Pond and teach us new world types a bit about fine wood carving.


Mike Bloomquist is a carver and carving teacher, and a frequent contributor to WOM. He edits the on-line newletter for the Mohawk Valley Art & Woodcarving Association, and is also their current President.

You may visit Mike's web site, Wooden Dreams Woodcarving at http://www.borg.com/~bloomqum/index.htm or email him at bloomqum@borg.com.


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