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wood carving,as an art form, includes any kind of sculpture in wood, from the decorative bas-relief on small objects to life-size figures in the round, furniture, and architectural decorations.
The woods used vary greatly in hardness and grain. The most commonly employed woods include boxwood, pine, pear, walnut, willow, oak, and ebony. The tools are simple gouges, chisels, wooden mallets, and pointed instruments. Although they were universally one of the earliest art media, wood carvings have withstood poorly the vicissitudes of time and climate. A few ancient examples have been preserved in the dry climate of Egypt, e.g., the wooden statue of Sheik-el-Beled (Cairo) from the Old Kingdom.
The carving of wooden masks and statuettes was common to the African tribes (see African artAfrican art,
art created by the peoples south of the Sahara.
The predominant art forms are masks and figures, which were generally used in religious ceremonies. The decorative arts, especially in textiles and in the ornamentation of everyday tools, were a vital art in
..... Click the link for more information. ), and totem poles were used for the basic religious rites of the tribes of the Northwest Coast of America (see North American Native artNorth American Native art,
diverse traditional arts of Native North Americans. In recent years Native American arts have become commodities collected and marketed by nonindigenous Americans and Europeans.
..... Click the link for more information. ). The wooden objects of Oceania include animated designs, incised and in relief, on canoes and large standing figures (see Oceanic artOceanic art,
works produced by the island peoples of the S and NW Pacific, including Melanesia (New Guinea and the islands to its north and east), Micronesia (Mariana, Caroline, Marshall, and Gilbert islands), and Polynesia (which includes the Hawaiian Islands, the Samoas,
..... Click the link for more information. ). In Japan and China wooden carvings have long been used to decorate temples and private dwellings (see Chinese architectureChinese architecture,
the buildings and other structures created in China from prehistoric times to the present day. Early Architecture
As a result of wars and invasions, there are few existing buildings in China predating the Ming dynasty (1368–1644).
..... Click the link for more information. ; Japanese architectureJapanese architecture,
structures created on the islands that constitute Japan. Evidence of prehistoric architecture in Japan has survived in the form of models of terra-cotta houses buried in tombs and by remains of pit houses of the Jomon, the Neolithic people of Japan.
..... Click the link for more information. ). The Muslim countries of North Africa abound in intricate architectural carvings.
In Europe wood carving was highly developed in Scandinavia, and examples have been preserved of 10th- and 11th-century work. In England the Gothic period produced extremely fine carving, especially on choir stalls (see misericordsmisericords
, carvings in Gothic churches that adorn choir stalls provided for the use of the clergy during services. The stalls were carved with biblical scenes that demonstrated the artist's skill and wit.
..... Click the link for more information. ) and rood screens. Although the Puritans destroyed much of this, enough has been preserved to show its beautiful workmanship. In France wood carving was also a part of religious art, and there the carved altarpieces were especially notable. Italian wood carving flourished during the Gothic period in Pisa, Siena, and Florence, as well as in the southern monasteries; during the Renaissance it remained an adjunct of Italian artistic development.
Many of the 15th- and 16th-century artists in Germany worked in wood, creating monumental sculptures and altarpieces; among the greatest were Hans Multscher, Michael Pacher, Veit Stoss, and Tilman Riemenschneider. Fine retables were also created in Flanders and Spain. After the Renaissance wood carving went into a slight decline. It had a revival in the early 18th cent. when Grinling Gibbons in London carved for Sir Christopher Wren's buildings. In colonial America fine ships' figureheadsfigurehead,
carved decoration usually representing a head or figure placed under the bowsprit of a ship. The art is of extreme antiquity. Ancient galleys and triremes carried rostrums, or beaks, on the bow to ram enemy vessels.
..... Click the link for more information. and many other pieces now considered important folk art were executed in wood.
The 20th cent. has seen a resurgence of interest in the medium of wood. Notable modern sculptors who have used wood include Archipenko, Barlach, Henry Moore, and the Finnish Tapio Virkkala. An appreciation of the basic material—the grain and texture of wood—led many figurative artists including William Zorach, Chaim Gross, Robert Laurent, and José de Creeft to work with wood. Wood has also held a fascination for some abstract artists, notably Louise Nevelson who created large, intricate sculptural compositions of carved and turned wood forms.
See D. Z. Meilach, Contemporary Art with Wood (1968); C. C. Carstenson, The Craft and Creation of Wood Sculpture (1971, repr. 1981); E. J. Tangerman, The Modern Book of Whittling and Woodcarving (1973); Jack C. Rich, Sculpture in Wood (1977).