Madonna and Child

I got a call from a church that is nearing the dedication date of it’s current additions and renovations. They were wondering if it would be possible to commission a carving based on the design used for their logo which appears on their stationary, advertising etc.  They have a small space measuring approx. 34 X 44 inches and 11 inches deep that was originally intended to be used for a book shelf .  Their idea was not to use it as this , but as a space to “frame” a sculpture. I thought it was rather odd to begin with as this niche is pretty much front and center as you enter the main reception area. To me , it was a perfect spot for a carving.

So with little time to spare they sent me a copy of their logo. That day I redrew the design to a size I thought appropriate for the space. I also made up some stained wood samples of various shades and finishes as well as carving a small (6 inch) relief of what the finished carving would look like in white mahogany. I only used the mahogany because it was handy and would carve easily even though the final piece I anticipated would be done in Walnut.The following night , armed with my drawing, samples, and the carving I made a presentation to the committee. Since they had little time to spare they made a decision that night  and gave me the go ahead. This in itself is quite surprising for most committees based on my experiences with them.

The next day I picked up some beautiful 10/4 walnut, 10 inches wide and started prepping it for glue up. I made a block , based on the drawing that ended up 4 1/4 inches thick out of a total of 14 pieces. I decided against using stock 10+ inches wide even though the carvings width would only be at the max 24 inches wide and that would have required only two seams.

Based on their logo I also needed to make a star that ended up approx. 10 inches top to bottom. Here , as you’ll see in the photos I made it out of 4 pieces and inset a small section to make small points at the intersections that ended up getting gilded with 23K gold.

Once the block was ready to carve I used power to remove the bulk of the stock. Regardless how close you can get with the power there was still plenty of carving to do. It’s basically a simple relief  and playing with the levels really gave it some depth. I kept the overall carving smooth so as not to stray too far from the design as I feel this type of carving doesn’t lend itself to much detail. Instead it works by the interaction of lines and surface. Carving too much realism would only hurt it.. One small concession I made, which they agreed to simply for some interest was to have a chiseled surface on the veil as well as the halo. This gave a bit of interest and when properly lit will provide a bit of sparkle as the facets reflect light differently than the plain smooth surfaces. Speaking of lighting, which is what makes a carving work, they had lighting installed per my specifications to make this piece come alive . In the evenings when ambient lighting is low, this piece will look great.

Well here are some photos as I progress through the project and once I have it completed I’ll post the finished installation.

Here you can see the sample logo they gave me as a reference. Behind is the drawing I did for the presentation and ultimately my guide for glue up and carving.

Here is the last section of wood being glued into place before carving.

The full size drawing, which ended up at 36 X 24 inches and the beginning stages of carving after about 6 hours. Power allows you to find major forms quickly.

This is the back of the carving which I hollowed out. Since I did this, I kept a section which I used for mounting the piece to the backing panel. The section you see which looks like a bar across it has a bevel carved into the relived area. This in turn will sit on a matching bevel which I mounted to the panel to hold the carving. Being beveled it won’t slip off and this design automatically makes the carving pull tightly to the backing panel.

A close up of the finished head and veil on Mary where you can see the subtle chiseled finish on the veil only.

The area around Mary’s knees where you can see the various levels I made to show depth. Even with power, that’s quite a bit of wood to remove. You can also make out a small section of the halo and the chisel marks and rays I carved into it.

The bottom of the robe and veil. I especially like how the grain in the veil accentuates its movement.

This gives you a sense of scale along with the drawing in the background I used as my pattern. I love the look of gold especially against a wood such as Walnut.

And finally a look at the completed carving. Here it is mounted on what will become the backing panel in the niche. Currently the niche is finished with white melamine which is too harsh looking. This panel, as well as the 4 panels for the top and sides will be stained , though not very dark. They will remain somewhat lighter for a nice contrast.  As a final touch I suggested they also remove the white frame surrounding the niche and replace it with stained oak that is used in other areas of the church . Doing this , I believe, will make this piece look like a 3 dimensional art work with a traditional type frame.

I’ll post the final shots once the piece is completed and set in place. Hope you enjoyed it so far.

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Doug Duffield
    Nov 25, 2010 @ 03:20:45

    I really like this piece. In fact, I want to ask you if I can use some of your techniques on a smaller version of this carving. I really like the way the wood grain and the flow of the robe complement each other. Looking at the photo of the bottom of the robe, the grain swirls with the curve of the robe. Around the legs, the grain seems to follow the shape of the leg. I don’t know if you planned this or not, but it is very impressive!

    I’m thinking of about a 3/4 x 6 x 9 inch version using a glue up of 6 pieces of mahogany. I don’t wish to copy the design, rather use my version with the grain working with the carving.

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge.



  2. Mark
    Nov 25, 2010 @ 17:01:36

    Hi Doug,
    Any number of variations of this piece is possible. I’m wondering though why at that size would 6 pieces of mahogany be necessary? Generally mahogany is fairly straight grained where as the Walnut tends to have more wandering grain, this will make a difference. Then again, it’s difficult to “work with the grain” because as you carve into a piece of wood and find different levels and curves, the grain will basically do what it will do as far as appearance goes and you’ll have to live with what you get. You don’t have very much control over it. It either happens or it doesnt.


  3. Doug Duffield
    Nov 26, 2010 @ 03:07:16

    You’re right, the grain in the mahogany is pretty straight. I just thought that it be fun to try to get the grain to go wild. I will probably just use a solid piece and carve. It will be interesting. Thanks.


  4. Doug Duffield
    Dec 03, 2010 @ 23:45:26

    I’ve got to say thank you to you and Doris again. I’ve been carving a smaller version this and am learning so much. I couldn’t get the flods in the head dress quite right, so as you all said in ‘Learning to See’, I grabbed a hand towel put a double fold in it and hang it from the ceiling fan switch. I could look at the towel and see how the curves fit together. Not to say that I can produce anything close to the above, but it looks a lot better now.

    Also, you both have stated that one needs to keep pushing the depth of the carving. Well, it finally sank in …. I’m not as fearful of getting into the wood and making a mistake. It really works … more depth, more change between layers, eaiser to see the form.

    If it’s ok with you all, I’d like to post a few photos of the finished product to get some critiques. Thanks again for sharing your knowledge and experience!



  5. mark
    Dec 04, 2010 @ 09:16:05

    Hi Doug,
    It certainly is wonderful to hear that our work is not only appreciated but is being put to good use and is making a difference somewhere in the world.
    Yes, depth of carving. If there is wood there then it can , and should be carved in my estimation. Of course , I’m a wood hog!
    I’d love to see your work. If you’d like to send it to me directly , or post it on one of the sites I’d be happy to take a look and give my advice.


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