Whittle Folk-The Beginning
“WHITTLE FOLK” is a term coined in 1986 to describe a style of carving developed by the WOOD BEE CARVER that has become “WHITTLE FOLK ART.” Folk Art is the art of the common folk often self learned in the trial and error method of learning while doing. Whittling or carving only with a knife falls into this category of folk art.
“Whittle Folk” were introduced as caricatures of the Ozark and Appalachian hillbilly tradition, carved from a single piece of basswood three inches tall by one inch square using a pocket knife as the carving knife of choice. They are called “Whittle Folk” because they are little (pronounced “whittle”) and because they are carved in the whittling style with hundreds of facets left by the cutting edge.
This was the very first Whittle Folk who became the inspiration for all the other Whittle Folk carved between 1986 and 1996. A very good carving friend of mine who recently passed away, George Stewart, showed me a little hillbilly figure he purchased in Mountain View, Arkansas in 1986 which became a pattern to carve one similar. Of course, in the carving process, the carver puts one’s own interpretation and style into any carving so that the new carving does not always look like the original. And well it shouldn’t. Every carving should have the carver’s own personality carved into the carving.
Upon finishing one Whittle Folk there was an inner push to carve another one with a little different pose, shape of the hat, item held in hands and other refinement. One led to another and then another until there were a whole clan of Whittle Folk doing different things and looking just a little different from the others. The photos which follow depict that various interpretations on a common theme.
It is always more interesting if a figure is doing something rather than just standing there, so these two Whittle Folk tell a story by the way they stand and what they are holding. One is holding a sheep which is kinda humorous in that squirming animals do not like to be held. The other Whittle Folk is leaning on a shovel and is half asleep in a lazy sort of way.
The first of these sleeping Whittle Folk was a challenge to carve the legs crossed, carve arm around the dog and make it all look right. So pleased was I with the accomplishment that I carved another nine to have ready for wood carving shows. It was not until sometime later that I realized that I had carved the feet incorrectly, in that when feet cross the legs, the big toes should be on the outside, rather than on the inside as I had carved them. A lesson for cautious research.
These photos have Whittle Folk telling a story by their pose. One is a fisherman who caught the big one and he has the proof that it did not get away. The next photo is of a man with a walking stick and his dog off to see what they can see in the walk in the woods. The next photo shows a old time farmer with his hoe in one hand and his hat in the other as he takes a break from hoeing weeds out of the corn patch. The rabbit hunter carries a rabbit he shot with his gun. All are happy at what they are doing.
These three photos offer a line up of the various themes used in the series of Whittle Folk carved over a ten year period. Many more were sold and have found their way into the homes of various collectors. These are all that remain to be used as “go-by’s” for class projects and as fond memory of a journey the WOOD BEE CARVER once traveled in an earlier phase of learning the “carving way” for it is as I always say, “Woodcarving is more the journey than the destination..”