Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Fowl Not Foul

A nice avian theme for Spring...

St. Francis of Assisi preaching to the birds:


  1. This was a nice find! I'm in Ohio for the week and awoke this morning to a 12 degree windchill and snowflakes in the air, with the singing of the birds being the most predominant (and only!) sign of spring.

    I carved two St. Francis figures over the winter and both ended up much thinner than Roberto due to my tendency to keep removing more and more wood. I like this quote too:
    He who works with his hands is a laborer.
    He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.
    He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”― St. Francis of Assisi

    In February I wrote something I was going to post at TY but didn't. I hope it's ok to put it here, it sort of goes with the Francis theme.

    On the drive back from carving class, I thought about the difference between perfectionism and mastery/excellence. I'm wondering if one involves fear and the other an acceptance of process along with practice and a willingness to move through mistakes.

    If matter is a corrective and being wrong or making mistakes is twisted to become a matter of judgement and shame rather than learning, the type of correction needed for growth can be difficult to receive and process.

    The woman who led the wood carving class is a Master Carver at the John Campbell Folk School. She's been carving since she was 9. Watching her work was like watching magic happen. With sure, deft movements of the knife, shape took place, as easy as if she was cutting butter, with a crisp sound that reminded me of apples being peeled and quartered. Sitting next to her while she worked on "her" half of the figure to show me her movements and approach felt so quiet and peaceful, I didn't want my time to end. I'd start my turn full of questions and restless energy, trying to figure out what I needed to do next to "get it right" and at the end get up feeling calm and encouraged. I experienced her as a quiet, kind and humble person, confident and accepting, with enough presence and skill to set a high but accessible standard, one which seemed close to daunting yet invitational.

    When I told her how anxious and tight I'd get carving the tricky parts, she said, "When that happens to me, that's when I have to stop and remind myself, it's just a piece of wood" Her sincerity along with her words felt like a gift.

    I'd brought the two St Francis figures I'd been working on to show her because something about the face was off on both of them. Turns out I was cutting the noses too sharp and once she showed me what I was doing, I saw it, but not before. She then carved an example on a scrap of wood so I could take it home, giving me the hope that I could do the same, along with the awareness that practice and acceptance of process ( and error) will improve my skill. I returned home feeling affirmed and confident yet challenged, with the thought of matter as a corrective positively reinforced.

    1. I translated a portion of St. Francis' "Sermon To The Birds" back here. It's at the end--don't know why I put it after the Italian.

      That was a beautiful story/observation which I'm going to have to mull over before responding.

      I hope 60 Grit shows up for this one. He's a wood carver/sculpture too.

      Thanks for the post.

  2. I have never carved St. Francis. I have carved a St. Joseph, however, and he has guided me to the sale of two houses. Not bad for a Southern Baptist, am I right?

    As I have mentioned, reductive sculpture is difficult. My best work has been done in clay, a medium that allows adding and cutting away. It is darned hard to get a good likeness, in any case.

    But back to the Saint at hand - I like to think of myself as being in tune with nature when I walk in the woods and so on, paying attention, being quiet and so on. That's just a personal myth, of course, but I did have an interesting experience last summer - I spent many months working on a house, now sold, thank you Joseph, and due to my weakened physical state I had a nice beach-style chaise lounge on hand for those times when I just couldn't go on any longer.

    One beautiful day last summer I decided to drag the lounge out onto the deck and look at the sky - do you have any idea what luxury it is to be able to spend a few minutes just watching puffy white clouds roll by? It was a wonderful gift.

    After a few minutes I fell asleep. I don't know how long I was asleep, but I was awakened by something on my foot. In my sleepy state I thought it was one of my cats - then I bolted awake because my cats live in my house, not the one I was repairing. I sat up just in time to see a small wren flying away - aw - I was so inert a bird landed on me. What a wonderful feeling.

    So, I am no saint, never pretended to be, but it sure was wonderful to have a close encounter with a wild bird. A true blessing.

    And that's all I have to say about that, in my best F. Gump fashion.

  3. The last thing I carved was a little wax figurine for my daughter to use in a diorama for school link. I know--too much parental input, but I wanted to show her how to do it too. We had art classes when I went through public schools. Middle schools have been cut to the bone--high schools are a little better, fortunately.

  4. I have a house full of carvings, some of which go back 40 years or more.

    Also have a room full of bowls, drying.

    Tuesday I turned a 21.5" diameter black walnut bowl. It's a beauty.

    Today I drove 35 miles east of here to saw some more walnut. Managed to slab a massive walnut crotch that was close to 6' thick at its thickest point.

    I had been reluctant to undertake this job as one screw up and a priceless piece of wood has been ruined. I told the owner of my concern, he spent some time showing me where he wanted the cuts made, I steadied my nerves, focused, and in a succession of 5 vertical cuts, slabbed that crotch out into some of the most stunning wood I have ever sawn. Or seen.

    Anyway, in retrospect, his confidence in my ability to do the job overcame my lack of confidence, and in the end, some beautiful slabs of walnut were freed from a log.

    He gave me one of the slabs by way of payment - he is a generous man.

    I sawed a number of other pieces while I was there - I rarely venture out of my own neighborhood so I made the most of it. Giant maple crotch - split in twain. Odd burly walnut log - all cut up. It was a good afternoon.

    So there I was, drenched in sweat after working like a big dog, and the temperature dropped and the wind picked up. It will be in the 20s tonight - how unseemly. I really want winter to go away now. I have things to do.

    1. Giant maple crotch - split in twain.

      You're quite the sawyer.

    2. You are correct - being the delicate sort I omitted any mention of the butt log.

      Who knew trees were so lewd?

    3. Anyways, it's an admirable trade you've made and developed.

    4. Thanks, CL. It hasn't been easy, but what's a guy to do, am I right?

      Yesterday I learned about a guy who does chainsaw carving with a saw about the size of the one I use to slab logs. That is not only burly, it is gnarly.

  5. I am in mull mode, having returned from 12 hours of listening to others and my brain is in overload. Finding these stories and reading of freedom involved felt like respite. The wren, the walnut and the waiting wood: all good!

    One of the talks today center around St Ignatius and his reflections on the relationship between desolation (without sol/sun) and consolation (with light).

    Before he became a monk, Ignatius (Lopez)was a Spanish knight/soldier of noble birth. At age 30, his knee was shattered in battle and he underwent a long and painful recovery, during which he read De Vita Christi by Ludolph of Saxony which inspired him to devote himself to labour for God, following the example of spiritual leaders such as Francis of Assisi He then went on to study Latin which required him to sit in classes with 12 years olds. (This reminded me of El Pollo and his current reading!)

    Pain and change, the trading of one work for another, with the words written as a result still being talked about today, 450 years down the road.

    1. I've been to Assisi and seen his physical origins. In a country full of such relics, his are easily forgotten. I have a stronger memory of the Roman Temple of Minerva in that town. It's been converted to a church.

      We have a living descendant of St. Francis here in Oceanside. By That I mean the Franciscan mission, San Luis Rey de Franca, which is still in use.

  6. Thanks for all for the thoughtful insights. The only thing I recall carving was a cooking spoon. I don't think I ever properly finished it, but I'll bet it's around somewhere. Or maybe I used it unfinished.

    Sixty, did you bury your St. Joseph upside down in the front yard of the house needing selling?

    Chick, I visited San Luis Rey Mission one or two times, once with my visiting grandmother. She bought each of us three girls a St. Christopher, silver discs with enameled centers. Mine was blue. If it is still where I left it, it is stuck in a crack in some cement steps leading up to a neighbors house. I wonder if I came back with a giant magnet I could coax it out :)

    1. The SLR Mission has a nice gift shop next to its museum. I try to buy something there every year.

      Thanks for stopping by, deborah.