Recently I was given a fisherman/sea captain figure by two carving friends who thought it looked a little like the Wood Bee Carver by its style of beard. It is one of those tourist souvenir carvings that has been around for years that used a “flat plane” style of carving technique to economically produce a lot of lookalike carvings.
Harley Refsal has been the most notable authority on Flat Plane Carving as a historian, carver and author of Flat Plane Carving projects. Flat Plane carving has its origin in Scandinavia countries and may have influenced such carvers as Emil Janel and Andy Anderson and the anonymous carvers of tourist souvenirs in cottage industry seventy five years ago.
The characteristic long and broad whittling strokes that create a “flat plane” on the surface of a carving create a minimalistic and folk art beauty to this style of carvings. Flat Plane carving offered a quick approach to earlier cottage industry for making repetitious carving strokes in an assembly line fashion to turn out carvings as cheaply as possible for the tourist gift shop trade.
The efficiency of each cut, crude in first appearance, depicts a tried and true approach to achieving a recognizable carved subject. The eyes on the face may be a notch cut and yet its simplicity still gives a quaint charm to that style of an eye carved. While detail is lacking, yet in the series of flat planes and notch cuts there is still a “bulky detail” to the planes and angles that create a recognizable figure.
The fisherman/sea captain is offered here for study to notice the efficiency of the whittling strokes of a knife blade to create the planes and angles of both facial features and body pose. Note also that this carving is proportionately correct as depicted in the Rule of Three of Facial and Body Proportions. Note also that what it lacks in detail it makes up for itself in the overall basic shape and form that allows the viewer’s imagination to fill in the missing details.
While this carving may not be a style to emulate, yet it offers lessons in how to see planes, angles and shapes in the minimalist of subjects that are the foundation for the finest of more detailed carvings. Minimalism is the design or style in which the simplest and fewest elements are used to create the maximum effect. So even carvings like this flea market special has value beyond its monetary value by its example of a folk art carving that was carved by one who understood art in the simplest of terms. May we all learn simply that “simple” says more than what is first perceived. Beauty is not complicated because it is still quite simply in the eye of the beholder.