Original ornamental bear head and reproduction by Masamichi Nitani, still in progress. Nitani brings his woodworking skills to the Timberline Lodge restoration efforts. Linny Adamson photograph
Learn more about Timberline Lodge crafts here
Woodcarving: The art of craft There is a romantic vision of whittlers – young and old – sitting on a porch, whiling away their time with a penknife and a piece of scrap wood from the field. Sometimes the carving creates a toy boat or some four-legged friend. Other times it can result in folk art, like whirligigs. Either way, it is part of a tradition of fine woodcarving that includes intricate chests and frames, among other furniture.
One such example of woodcarving is the duck decoy. A. Elmer Crowell, of East Harwich, Massachusetts, who died at age 89 in 1951, is considered by many the best maker ever. One of his Canadian geese sold at auction in 2000 for an astounding $684,500. Asking prices of $10,000-$20,000 for other artists’ are not uncommon. And it is an ancient art. Although most popular through the 19th century, archeologists have found working decoys made by Indians 1000 years ago. Though decoys no longer have a practical use (since Congress outlawed the hunting of birds for sale in 1918), it is still a fine craft that finds its many adherents combining art and craft in a unique way.
Wood is also the raw material of regional crafts, like so-called “outsider art” in the South, so named because the artists who create their down-to-earth sculptures draw on local history without the benefit of being in the art “mainstream” of formal education and training. In the upper Midwest, fish decoys can be 6” to 3’ long, and can be painted to resemble real trout and sturgeon, or fancifully decorated with painted flowers, just for the fun of it. The former, suspended in holes by ice fishermen, were created mostly from the 1930s to 1960s.