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.

Carved door panel from "Casa Quinta Laura"

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.

A classic newel post with acanthus leaves and bell flowers

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.

Floral panel on apron of a small table inspired by designs of the Italian Renaissance

Note the one little flower that’s missing its stipling.  Sometimes it pays to photograph your work for “inspection” purposes.

Explore posts in the same categories: woodcarving

Tags: , , ,

You can comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.

2 Comments on “Detail Carving. Cheap ornamentation or art? You decide.”

  1. Frank Alcorn Says:

    As always, I enjoy your “musings”. I dropped by to see you today but was sorry to hear that you are ailing. Mexico? I finished my carved quarter sawn oak box. Have 15 pieces of riven red oak (24 inches long) that will finish out to 4 1/2 to 5 inch boards. You are welcome to them if you can use them. If not, into the fire place. Don Witzler, even as I write this, is forging some hold downs for a mutual friend in Lima. When Don is done, Dave will come up from Lima to get them. Want to see them before they go south? Know you want a long necked hold down and thought this might be a good opportunity to have something to adjust from. Also, finished my experimentation with Nitric. Made up 3 samples using 33% nitric, 66% distilled water, and iron; 33% nitric and no iron; and my regular dye – cherry amber. Anxious to show you the results. The nitric without iron makes a tan, slightly orangish color. Get well soon.


  2. Csaba Zatrok Says:

    What a beautiful!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: