Detail Carving. Cheap ornamentation or art? You decide.
My wife and I just returned from a short visit to Puerto Vallarta, the site of our daughter’s “desitination wedding”. It was great; wonderful weather, terrific friends and family, marvelous food and the incomparable people of Mexico. I’ve never had better guacamole or drank better margaritas.
But I was amazed how prevalent architectual wood carving continues to be in Mexico. I mean, keep your eyes open and you’ll see it just about everywhere; in homes, shops, clubs and, of course churches. Carved furniture is all around and appears to be as popular as carved architectural details.
Nearly fifty years of work in the architectural joinery field has given me many opportunities to repair and/or replicate a lot of carved details. So, I began to wonder just why this type of carving seems to have become much less popular in the United States than it was as recently as fifty years ago. I didn’t have to think very long or very hard. Detail carving is time consuming and time is money. In short this type of carving is costly.
Prior to World War II, molded cornices would have been the norm in all but the most modest houses. Some cornices could be very heavily carved as well as newel posts, which always provided a “center stage” for the journeyman detail carver.
This type of detail work is now seen only in the most “high-end” structures that are currently being constructed. The high cost, coupled with scarcity of qualified detailed carvers, has put this kind of art out of the reach of the average home owner. While once considered part of the joiners apprenticeship, rudimentary architectural carving is only being taught at the special craft institutions like the North Bennett Street School.
But fortunately the broad application of carving furniture and architectural details lives on in places like Mexico. Of course it lives on with dedicated, individual craftsman who continue to practice the craft as part of their own work. Whether you consider it cheap ornamentation or art, it is an important part of the woodworking process.
Note the one little flower that’s missing its stipling. Sometimes it pays to photograph your work for “inspection” purposes.