This is a style of woodworking very popular in Scandinavia and the US but very little known in the UK. I have to say most of the work done today I find rather kitch or twee. Folk for some reason often use the style to carve elves and gnomes or goofy caricatures. I am going to ignore all that stuff and show the work of the man I consider to be the master of this work and the source and inspiration back in Sweden where it originated Axel Petersson. (1868-1925)

He was known as doderhultarn which I have not found a translation for but the name became the standard term for this style of carving in Sweden. For many years he carved and sold his work on the local market but in 1909 his work was exhibited in Stockholm and from them on it was highly acclaimed in the art world and commanded good prices. The thing that I like about his work is that like the best impressionist painting it captures in a few bold strokes the essence of the subject. They are not caricatures with exaggerated features  but wonderful studies of country people going about their daily lives. There is no need to talk about them though either they do it for you or they don’t so here are some pictures.

And here he is carving all the work was done hand held with a knife.

There are plenty of folk doing nice carving in Scandinavia and many in the US using the techniques though I have not come across any that have what Petersson had. Probably the best known is the US carver Harley Refsal. After the intro this video shows him at work and talking about teaching.

Last mention should go to the Trygg family of carvers, Carl Johan Trygg was working at the same time as Petersson, he emigrated to Canada and had three sons all of whom carved selling huge numbers of carvings to tourists. Whilst Carl Johans carvings bare similarity to Petersson’s his sons evolved into the more caricature style with big noses. Here is one by his eldest son Carl Olof.

This seems to be very much the style Harley Refsal follows.

Author Robin Wood

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