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The creation of a carved California walnut overmantel panel for a house of contemporary design

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A Thesis
Presented to
the Faculty of the College of Architecture and Fine Arts
The University of Southern California
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree
Master of Fine Arts
Robert H. Monroe
August 1941
UMI Number: EP57845
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789 East Eisenhower Parkway
P.O. Box 1346
Ann Arbor, Ml 481 06- 1346
T h is thesis, w r itte n by
u n d e r the d i r e c t io n o f
/4.s„ F a c u l t y C o m m it te e ,
a n d a p p r o v e d by a l l its m e m b e r s , has been
presented to a n d accepted by the C o u n c i l on
G r a d u a t e S t u d y a n d Research in p a r t i a l f u l f i l l ­
m e n t o f th e r e q u i r e m e n t s f o r t h e d e g r e e o f
D ean
F aculty Com mittee
The p r o b l e m .........................
Statement of the pro b l e m ............
Need for the problem................
Definitions of terms u s e d ............
Decorative value ....................
Textural enrichment
Organization of remainder of thesis . .
Types of w o o d - c a r v i n g................
Tools for wood-carving................
W o o d s ...............................
The handling of tools and material . . .
Texture and f i n i s h ....................
The status of wood-carving as a decora­
tion ...............................
Development of wood-carving decoration
in the medieval t i m e s ..............
Use of wood-carving in churches . . .
Architectural carving ................
Medieval techniques of surface decoration
F r a n c e .............................
S p a i n ...............................
I t a l y ...............................
Medieval influence in recent times
Possibilities for the f u t u r e ..........
Location and s c a l e ..................
Type of w o o d ........................
Nature of the t h e m e ..................
Aesthetic aspects ......................
Preliminary considerations
The t h e m e ...........................
Size and form of the p a n e l ..........
Technical procedure ....................
Preliminary designs ..................
The drawing on w o o d ..................
Carving the p a n e l ...................
BI BL IO GR AP HY .................................
P L A T E S .......................................
Living Room Showing the East Wall and
The Fireplace over Which the Decoration Was
To Be P l a c e d .........................
Preliminary Sketches of the Theme (a and b)
Panel Design (c) with Suggested Carving
P l a n e s ...............................
Tone Drawing of the Panel in Its Architec­
tural Setting (before covered ply-board
panel was suggested)
Value Sketch of Fireplace with Accepted
Design of the Panel (d) for Determining
Architectural Relationships of Areas
. .
The Carving in P l a c e ...................
thesis was:
the problem.
The problem of this
(1) the carving of a panel in California-
walnut to be used over the mantel of the living room in the
house of Mr. and Mrs. Mitehel Milder of Colorado Springs,
Colorado, and (2) a description of the procedure involved
in its design and execution.
A comprehensive survey was
made of the historical background and the technical develop­
ment of wood-carving as a decorative feature in architec­
ture, and reviewed briefly in the text.
NcccL for the p_roj3_l_cm.
In rooont secular architec­
ture, glass, metals, plaster, stone, plastics, and other
synthetic materials have been used not only as functional
but as decorative features.
However, wood-carving as
such has not been used to any great extent for the embel­
lishment and enrichment of modern architecture.
The tendency in contemporary architecture in the
.Southwest, which largely has been based on the Spanish Colonial
style, had been to eliminate all but the necessary materials
which were used for structural purposes only.
of the architecture by embellishment has been overlooked and
pure forms had become monotonous and unmeaningful in their
The elimination of decoration thus
resulted in most cases in starkly formal combinations
creating barren vaults of cold concrete, glass, aluminum,
and tile.
The style was governed by construction and pure
functionalism, whereas the fanciful and personal aspects
had been overlooked in the presentation of the calculated
product of machines.
Two important questions arose:
(1) has the con­
temporary structure solely for a specific type of shelter?
or (2) Could an individual element, reflecting the person­
ality of the occupant, be incorporated in the architectural
For example, the hilder house is constructed of
monolithic concrete, and of glass with aluminum trim.
panel over the mantel was desired in the living room, the
walls of which were of poured concrete, coated with smooth
white plaster.
The room is rectangular, running lengthwise
north and south; it had a cool, unfriendly, and mechanical
atmosphere because of lack of architectural enrichment.
floors are grey tile.
The east wall is bisymmetric in
design; a simple fireplace of black marble is in the center
and flanked on either side by doors of wood with embossed
coffered ornamentation (PI. I, p.74.).
On both the north
and south ends of the room, are a set of three windows with
aluminum trim, divided horizontally into three equal
sections by bands of the same metal.
The west wall is
Pi ain except for the two doorways on either end of the
The furniture is of contemporary or so-called
"modern" design and the upholstery is of such fabrics as
nubby cottons, raw silks, and tweeds.
Most of the furni­
ture in the room is constructed of blonde woods.
Thus two limiting conditions presented themselves:
(1) the architectural requirements, and (2) the desires
and interests of Mr. and Mrs. Wilder.
The words "decorative value" and "textural enrich­
ment" appear frequently in the following text, and the
author implies the exact definitions as follows:
Decorative value.
The words stem from the Latin,
decoratus valere, meaning ornamental worth; or from the
French combination of valoir. past participle, value and
decus , ornament of worth
Textural enrichment.
The etymology of the term is
Webster *s Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield,
Mass.: G. & C. Merriam Co., 1940), p. 261, 1105, 5th edition.
the combination of the French words, enrlchir and texere.
meaning in general to make rich, or richer a structure in
artistic composition; the quality resulting from the
artist’s blending of elements, such as the pigment and the
brushwork of painting; 2 surface treatment with tools on
In preparation for the project, a survey was made
of literature and illustrations bearing on the general
theme of wood-carving and on the theme of bas-relief carv­
ing in particular.
The study followed two lines of interest
(1) the precedents established for the particular technique
chosen for the problem, and (2) the influence of the style
of medieval carving on contemporary wood-carvers.
In Chapter Two, the techniques and practices of woodcarving are reviewed, not only as to types, but also as to
various technical developments and the possible value of
carving as a decoration.
Chapter Three deals with a survey of wood-carving
as a decorative feature of architecture as practiced in
the Hiddie Ages, with its use at the present time and its
^ Ibid., p . 1033.
possibilities for the future.
Wood-carving for ecclesiasti
cal purposes as well as for domestic and secular use was
included in this study, as most of the art of wood-carving
was developed during the Middle Ages for church architec­
ture .
Chapter Four is a detailed account of the method of
procedure followed in the actual carving of the panel.
The theme of the design was suggested by the style of the
room for which it was intended and by the interests of
the occupants.^
Chapter Five concludes with a summary of the prob­
lem from the standpoint of (1) design requirements, and
(2) certain technical considerations characteristic of
wood-carving used decoratively.
Mr. Mitchel Wilder is Curator of the Taylor
Museum for Southwestern Studies of the Fine Arts Center,
Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Wood-carving is not only one of the oldest decor­
ative arts, but one of the most flexible types of ornamen­
tation in style, treatment, and use.
A study of the technique and practice of woodcarving revealed several facts: (1) Wood-carving as practiced
since primitive times might be said to be one of three
main types of carving, a combination of two types, or of
all three; (2) Techniques employed in the carving of v/ood
are established, yet elastic; (3} Wood-carving was used
for its decorative value or as an art in itself during
the Middle Ages and challenges the contemporary carver to
find its functional use today.
Wood-carving is an art of organizing mass or volume
with line, value, and texture.
The work deals with sur­
face treatment, proportion and shape and is not regarded
as an afterthought of construction.
There are three main types of carving: (1) carving
in the round, (2) relief carving, and (3) intaglio.
Sculpture which may be viewed from more than one
position and unattached to a background is said to be Ttin
the round.”
This type of carving is designed to be pleasing
from any point of view and may or may not be used as an
accessory to architecture.
A relief carving is one in which
the design projects from a background to which it is
Thus, a relief is closely allied to architecture
and is an inseparable part of a structure.
Intaglio is
related to relief carving in that it is sculpture in which
the background is a structural part of the design.
in intaglio, the carving is embedded in the ground or sunk.
This method of carving is sometimes known as rfcavo rilievo”
or sunken relief.
Since the problem of this thesis was to carve a
decoration to be used over a mantel, the problem was pri­
marily one of architectural decoration.
A carving in low
relief was chosen because of the architectural requirements
and the wishes of Llr. and Lirs. wilder.
The main tools for wood-carving are chisels and gouges
of different shapes and sizes.
G-ouges vary from one-
sixteenth of an inch to over an inch in -width.
The size and
number of tools vary in proportion to the elaborateness or
type of carving to be done.
The tools which are necessary
for the execution of most carving are: a gouge, a straight
spade chisel, bent gouge, corner chisel and the V tool
or parting tool.
The type of gouge used varies in accordance with the
size of the curve.
It is used to "set in" and gouge out
large sections of wood quickly.
Deep gouges have somewhat
straight sides and may be used where grooves are set
They are used when a change is required in section
from deep and narrow to wide and shallow.
This is achieved
by turning the tool on its side, which brings the flatter
sweep into action, therefore changing the shape of the
The mark which is made by pressing the gouge down
perpendicularly into a piece of wood is called the "sweep."
Spade shaped tools get well into the inaccessible
corners made by protruding elements of the relief because
thejr conceal less of the wood behind them.
This action is
difficult to perform with straight-sided tools.
Host carving tools, such as gouges and chisels, can
be secured in a bent form.
Tools with a bent arm are useful
for grounding spaces that are difficult to reach with the
ordinary straight tool.
The flat chisel is sometimes called the "firmer;"
it is perhaps the most used tool for general work.
flat chisel which has been bevelled off to a point is called
a Ttcorner chisel” and is useful to get into difficult cor­
ners or as a knife for making delicate edges and curves.
tool is used for making grooves with straight
sides and sharp inner angles at the bottom.
This tool is
good for outlining the drawing or parts of the design and
it receives its name because of its shape.
The tool which is selected is the one which seems
most convenient for expressing the feeling which the carver
wishes to impart, whether delicate or deliberate, or broad
and sweeping.
The wood most commonly used for carving is oak.
English oak is hard, with a close grain, and was a great
favorite of the wood-carvers in England during the Middle
It is much used for work in low relief and since
the grain is open, due to the quick growing of the tree,
the surface is somewhat dull and matt in texture.
American varietjr of oak is coarse in texture and unplea­
sant in its non-descript color.
Australian oak is straighter
in grain.
Chestnut is sometimes used as a substitute for oak
and is very good for work of large scale where the fineness
of detail is not desired.
Foods wllich similarly lend them­
selves are sycamore, beech, and holly.
These are neither
soft nor hard.
Yellow pine is a soft wood and is free from knots
and shakes.
Honduras mahogany is similar to American walnut in
the quality of hard, close and even grain.
sharp fibri-form manner.
It cuts in a
Idahogany is moderately hard and
varied in colour from a rich dark red to a golden brown.
Italian walnut is fine grained and of even texture.
It is slightly harder than American walnut and not so dark
in color.
California walnut is similar to Italian walnut.
Other much-used woods for carving are teak, lime
and plane pear, which is unsurpassed for small, delicate,
and intricate work; bass-wood, jarrah and such hard tropi­
cal woods as lignum vitae, ebony, and snake-wood.
Wood has a decided grain or fibre.
This limitation
dictates the method to be used in carving.
For a carving to be full of truth and vigor, both
as to form and to the spirit in which it is done, the
carver is aware of his material, tools, and the adaptability
of subject to his medium.
A question one might ask as a
standard criticism of a subject for wood-carving is: tfDoes
it seem right as carved wood?”
In primitive carving,
singleness of purpose and directness of technique are noted.
The work reveals what the wood was like before carving and
the nature of the material has been kept.
Handles of im­
plements, canoe paddles and other objects of a utilitarian
nature reflect the deliberateness of the carver, the
boldness, lack of timidity, and directness in approach.
Perhaps the easiest manner of carving is in the
direction of the growth; the pleasantest, across the fibre.
Oftentimes carving against the grain gives a pleasing tex­
ture but the chance of splitting the wood is great.
The grain of the wood sets bounds to the possi­
bilities of technique.
for swallowing light.
It also has an inordinate capacity
The groined roof with carved bosses
at the junction of the ribs in Worcester cloister, is an
example of a successful arrangement of the design in regard
to the arrangement of light and dark."^
The treatment was
commanded by the laws of light and vision, and designed
and considered with a view to the position of the observer.
The eye may be satisfied at both points: at a distance and
at close inspection.
A contrast of surface texture is
Arthur Gardner, Handbook of English medieval
Sculpture. (Cambridge: University Press, 1935), P* £94,
fig. 360.
If the surface is over smooth or labored, it
will be deficient in the suggestion of its woody possibili­
The outlines, varieties of planes, and depths are
to be regarded.
If these are properly considered, every-
thing else will take care of itself.'
The carved beams
at I.Iildenhall church, Suffolk, reveal the robust Medieval
conception of carving which was to be at a position of
great height.
The carving is rough and contrastingly
conservative in treatment, resulting in a variation which
is very pleasing.
From a study of examples of carving from Medieval
churches, a conclusion was made in regard to the handling
of the tools and material.
Desirable tooling results in
a texture which (1) partly imitates that of the details of
its subject and (2) partly displays the nature of the wood.
The final tool marks are not merely decorations in them­
selves, but help the eye to understand the forms; they
explain rather than confuse the contours of the surface.
The carving-tool marks may emphasise the design without in
George Jack, Mood Carving: Design and Workmanship.
(N. Y.: T. Nelson & Sons, Ltd., 1938) , p7 239 •
3 Ibid., p. 277, plate 3.
any way calling attention to themselves.
The type of finish applied to the completed carv­
ing is governed by the use of the work.
Certainly only
the polish that improves the carving should be used.
high polish may destroy the quality of texture.
On hard
woods, such as oak or California-walnut, the pressure of
the tools leaves a pleasant polish which is attractive in
Burnishing with the handle of the tool gives a
"natural" finish to hard wood.
The finish of wood is a result of the method of carv­
ing, not of a separate operation.
The choppy cuts, the
tool marks, and the grain of the wood reveal the story of
However, the use of polychrome decoration, as
practiced during the late period of the Middle Ages and
which tends to hide and conceal everything but a picturesque
form, might be effective.
The polychromed statuette of
Louis XI in the Albright Gallery, Buffalo, assigned to the
period 1470-1490, is typical of the pure lofty styliza4
tion of the Middle Ages.
The texture in a carving might be paralleled with
Alden, "Supreme Specimens of French Carving,"
Literary Digest, 112:17, January 9, 1932.
the element of tone in painting--depending upon a right
relationship of many elements.
Applied art is designed for a definite purpose;
it is not only to be decorative but functional as well.
Through the development of architecture, the Medieval
period in Europe was an epoch of great activity among
the wood-carvers. Structural members of architecture were
embellished and choir screens and stalls were added to the
already existing churches.
The peasant carver of Europe
used carving to emphasize the features of the structure
and his designs were woody both in concept and in execution.
It is not unprofitable to note that European
tTpeasant-carvingff is work which is the outcome of tradition.
The carvers were contented with simplicity and their en­
richments were always subservient to construction.
This does
not mean, however, that since wood-carving has been in­
fluenced by architecture it need be its handmaiden.
The tradition of the Medieval carving has given
rise to a growing demand for ecclesiastical carving today.
lack, op., cit., p. 234.
During the period of church building under such architects
as Vaughn, Richardson, and Corbusier, I* Kirchraayer in­
troduced a style of carving on church altars, screens, and
panels which he called rtAmerican Gothic *rf The work was
a simplified Gothic and was used as carving in the Gothic
The present arid style of architecture affords
many opportunities for enrichment by wood-carving.
plain and severe setting, similar to those of early
Medieval times, is an excellent background for wood-carving
to show to an advantage*
The contributions of the wood-carver of ancient
and classical art are meager in comparison with the ex­
pressions in wood of the Middle Ages.
The early phases of
the art of this period began before the Romanesque and
reached their culmination in the early Gothic style.
prototypes of monumental carving are found in the Romanes­
que period, but one looks to the Gothic for the real be­
ginnings of the use of carved wood architecturally and in
Thus, the writer felt a study of the carvings
of the Medieval period to be of value as a background for
the creative project for the thesis.
After the exchange of gifts by Charlemagne and
Haroun-al Raschid, famous Caliph of Baghdad in the eighth
century, Mestern art began to reflect certain Oriental
characteristics in line and space concepts.
These form
Elmer I. Tangerman, Design and Figure Carving
(New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1940), p. 158.
part of the influences on the Romanesque period, which
occupied the eleventh and twelfth centuries, a period of
vigorous art production, marked by its naivete and honesty
of execution: powerful and bold.4'"
The period richest in
art production of the middle Ages was the thirteenth; in
the second half of which there was developed a more or­
namental style of architectural carving with floral de­
signs combined with the somewhat crude and vigorous style
of the Romanesque period.
This transitional period was
an era of great artistic achievement.
The directness of
approach of this art and the simple, dynamic interpretation
of subject in a given material is strongly reflected in
the work of Ernst Barlach, Ivan alestrovic, and Eric Gill.
The simple geometric masses which emphasized line and re­
sulted in a quality of strength and force are appreciated
in architecture today, where the relation of material and
function are regarded as of utmost importance.
VJ. R.
Lethaby says, "The best ornament of all times is neither
original nor copied: it must recognize tradition, and add
cit.f p. 70, plate 64.
Arthur Gardner, Lledieval Sculpture in France
(Cambridge, University Press, 1931), p . 319, figure 381.
Cf. p o s t , pp. 35, 36, 37.
something which shall he the tradition of the future.”
In the development of monumental sculpture during
the Romanesque times, the inspiration for great figurepieces in wood was found in the illuminations of the last
Christian, Carolingian, and contemporary manuscripts.
these, every school of carving in the Romanesque period
developed its own peculiar stylistic factors in the treat­
ment of the draiDery.
Ivories, fragments of ancient
statuary, earlier frescoes, and mosaics were also used as
models, transfused with a new spirit.
Religion was the strongest force in Medieval art.
The monastery flowered into the great cathedral; the Fran­
ciscans and Dominicans fostered humanization of art and a
more appreciative study of nature; the Virgin cult was a
vital asxoect in art and the Crusades were a sincere ex­
pression of religious enthusiasm.
Gothic art retained the general aspects of the
Romanesque, decorative and monumental, hut contained the
elements of a subtler and more human art.
spirit v/as gradual, however.
The change of
It was first evident in the
Gerbert Grimwood and Frederick Goodyear, An Intro­
duction to Decorative Moodwork (Peoria, Illinois: Manual
Arts Press, 1937), id. 97, citing v v . R. Lethaby.
Charles G. Crump, editor, Legacy of Middle Ages
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 19S6), p. 101.
carved interpretations of the Virgin Mother.
The treatment
was freer and more intellectual, combining mysticism and
heightened emotionalism.
In the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, de­
coration was carved in higher relief, too naturalistic
for the treatment of wood-carving, in the opinion of the
The "Mourning Virgin," French, fifteenth century,
in the Cleveland Museum of Art, shows the forced natural­
ism and also the fine craftsmanship of these later
Skilled workmanship wont hand in hand with in­
dustry; it was a desired accomplishment, useful and
Even under the roofs of the market place of
the Medieval town, the carvings were of such beauty that
they might have well been used in the finest ecclesiastical
The themes used by the carver were drawn mainly from
the Old and New Testaments, legends, and earlier symbolism.
Favorite subjects were the Apocalyptic Christ, the Last
Judgment, and the Ascension.
Beast forms of Aesonic fables,
probably a result of imitation of oriental fabrics and
tapestries, classical ornament from antiquity, and some
Ibid., p. 111.
Latharine Gibson, The Goldsmith of Florence
(Iiew York: Macmillan Company, 1929) , p . 35.
secular subject matter were used.
Aristocrats and the
peasantry, battles, trades, and amusements mingled with
ecclesiastical subjects.
The knowledge of animals had largely come to the
people of the Middle Ages from a book called the "Physiologus.n
This work is based on Pliny; his ideas of animal
life were incorporated with Bible texts, and used to
illustrate moral lessons.
Por example, according to
Physiologus, the lion had three natures; first he wiped away
the marks of his footprints with his tail so that none could
follow him; second, he slept with his eyes open, always on
the alert for his prey; third, he had a monstrous loud roar.
Thus, the lion was used as a guardian of the sanctuary.
The imaginary creatures such as the griffin, the tharanda,
and the man-eating manticora lent themselves to the
decorative scheme of the Medieval carver.
Leaf forms were easily adapted to decorative treat­
ment: for example, the vine, with its grapes, the oak with
its acorns, and the acanthus often combined with grotesques,
flowers, and fruit.
The acanthus motif was used differently
through this period; during the late Romanesque and Early
Gothic times, it was used both as a leaf and as a rinceau,
in some cases having almost a Byzantine form.
The round,
bulbous forms of the leaf were preferred, later the more
bizarre aspect was popular*
In Italy, bov/ever, the acanthus
eventually fell into comparative disuse, being superseded
by local foliage forms.
Use of wood-carving in churches.
As the church was
the chief patron of the arts during the Medieval times,
the wood-carving done for ecclesiastical purposes is most
The intellectual and emotional elements in
the life of the people were revealed in the beautification
and embellishment of the cathedral.
Wood decoration
logically falls in two related catagories: that of (1) carving
on architectural and structural members, such as embellish­
ment of the beams, arches, columns, and doors; and (2)
decorated the altar screens, the great lactern,
and choir stalls.
In regard to the former, the carver
apparently cared more for the general effect, remembering
that his work was to be seen at a distance.
Decoration on
a large scale necessitated the production of shadow to em­
phasize pattern.
However, in the carving of church fur­
niture, great intricacy said textured detail in contrast to
the broad handling of sweeping planes is common.
Architectural carving.
While stone was used to a
greater extent than wood for exterior decorations, the in­
terior was rich with wood-carving rather than stone.
was frequently used on a large boss to cover the inter­
sections of the mouldings of the vaulted roofs.
peered from corbels, imaginatively naturalistic in
Color and gilding were applied to the wood-
carving, to capitals, ornamental details, and statutes.
Decorative value determined by architectural needs guided
the Medieval carver.
Wooden churches of Norway were embellished on the
About the portals the heavy wood was carved in
low relief with a rich decorative architectural quality.
The designs are free and intricate; combining natural,
geometric, and zoomorphic motifs into rhythmic linear
The carved doorvray, twelfth century, in the
Christiana Museum shows the use of Oriental motifs linear
in style and emotional m
Designs of the Viking
builders and carvers enrich the roof lines in fanciful
The amount of furniture used in the church
was small, but the quality was pleasing.
center of decoration.
The choir was the
The stalls and screen at Winchester
Cathedral, for example, were carved with figures, birds,
Alfred Haskell, Wood Sculpture (New York: G. P.
Putnam’s Sons, 1911), p. 21.
dragons, and foliage.^
The relief is definite but shallow,
giving an effect of undulation.
Often the poses and cos­
tumes of the pulpit figures suggest fragments of Roman
Often the bach of the stall in Trench churches was
crowned by a canopy, which became more and more projecting
during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
At first
the design was simple, the hack low; later it became rich
and exuberant in ornament, with pendants, figures and
masks as seen in the Cathedral of Amiens
11 and Auch. 12
seat of the stall was higher than the side benches, a
constant reminder that in the life of the monastery, the
abbot was lord over all the monks and lay brothers.
abbot’s stall in the Cleveland Museum, French, 1500-1515,
has pinnacles at the top and bottom of the pointed canopy,
symbolizing the dual power of the abbot.
The popular
tree of Jesse is here used, the family tree of Christ, with
the costumed folk of the fifteenth century.
The perpendicular screen at Littleham-cum-Exmouth,
G-ardner, Handbook of English Medieval Sculpture,
o p . cit., p. 305, figure 373.
Haskell, o p . cit., p. 334, plate LI.
Ibid., p. 328, plate L.
. cit., p.
fifteenth century, is divided into related panels, which
vary in design.
As in most English carving, the hackground is roughly cut away from the tracery and results
in a free rather than a mechanical effect.
Between the stalls was a seat ledge, or misericorde.
These were for the monies and canons, hut later they were
used by the members of the congregation.
In many cases
the ledges of these benches were carved with common sub­
jects— comic scenes from proverbs, and morality plays,
or stories told by the peddler, or the packman.
Those in
Hereford, All Saints1 Church, set forth the duties of the
farmer, designating the months of the years.
Bird Scaring" shows two hardy countrymen with sticks, beat­
ing the air and howling to keep the thieving fowls away
from the crops.
Hoik tales were popular, such as, "Brer
Rabbit," the three mice bringing the cat to justice and
hanging him to the limb of a tree.
The carvings on the
misericorde give a keen insight into the daily life of the
Medieval people.
Eleanor Rowe, Practical Wood Carving (New York:
J. Lane, 1907), p. 106.
Gibson, on. c i t . , p. 44.
Techniques of surface decoration varied somewhat
throughout Europe,
The French carver set the pace both
in design and execution for the rest of Europe.
Spain, Italy, and England made valuable contributions.
Besides the country or the section of the country, the
difference in type of decorative treatment depended to a
great extent on whether the work was done by independent
carvers or by members of a guild, type of wood used, use
of the carving, and in some measure at least, the subject
The subjects might be legendary, religious, or a
confusion of both, symbolic, purely decorative interpre­
tations of nature, or interpretations of town and country
life •
French institutions, customs, manners,
schools, literature, and art were patterns for the rest of
the western Christian world.
Chase reminds us:
"Southern France attained such a brilliant develop­
ment in sculpture that to a very considerable extent
she taught the rest of Europe.”
Early Medieval sculpture reached its height of expression
in the school at Languedoc.
The school included two styles.
George H. Chase and Chandler E. Post, A History
of Sculpture (Mew York: Harper and Brothers, 1925), p. 196.
In both the carving was felt architecturally, the forms
were vital and two characteristic mannerisms were evident:
crossing of the legs, to avoid stiffness, derived from
manuscript illustration, and (2) the agitation of the edges
of the garments in formal scrolls.
The compositions were
symmetrical in design with elongated figures becoming part
of the lines said masses of the architectural structure.
The themes were characteristic of the region, manuscript
motifs executed under oriental influences, or partial imi­
tation of ancient sarcophagi and the Christian ivories.
The Burgundian school was rich and ornamental, with
a high degree of animation in forms and draperies, and the
dramatic treatment was powerful.
Provence was influenced
strongly by Homan antiques found in the country.
This heri­
tage is especially noted in the larger figures of the saints
in niches— bodies of squatty proportions, heads of solid
expression, the draperies classical..
architecture influenced the forms.
The spirit of the
Oriental flatness was
used extensively in the work from the schools of Poitou and
A common subject was the mounted cavalier repre­
senting Bmperor Constantine, St. George, or St. Hartin.
carved doors at LePuy bear Cufic inscriptions, highly de­
Chase and Post,
. cit., p.
corative in concept.
"Toulouse became the centre of an
orientalizing type of Romanesque art."
The reredos in St. Paul’s in Abbeville is fanciful
and lacelike in effect.
The emotionalized "Annunciation11
and "Worship of the Child" are florid in their architectural
Although the carved wood portal at Beauvais
is lacelike in its ornamental detail, the use of the gouge
in the foliage and the handling of the figures reveals
mastery in executing broad hollows. v
This portal is in two
sections, the lower part an architecturally designed screen;
the upper (which is divided into four sections, as the
lower) is composed of figures derived from the Hew Testa­
ment and Church history.
Between the main figures, small
upright figurines on the pilasters bind the group together.
The two panels of carved walnut from the late fifteenth
century in the Victoria and Albert l.luseum, shows the in­
teresting and simple treatment of the background spaces in
Crumps, ojD. cit,, p. 64.
Lawrence A . Turner, "v'/ood-Carving,” Encyclopedia
Britannioa. 14th edition, AXIII, plate V, figure 10.
20 Ibid.. plate VT.
relation to the figures."
The depth of the relief is
slight, hut the force of the simple treatment of the
figures gives a third dimensional and monumental quality.
The angular ridge which hinds the tracery is native and
is interesting in comparison with the flat hand in England.
"The rounded moulding seems to have been popular everywhere
and at all periods."
The panel from an oak door, late
fifteenth century, in the same museum, is an example, of an
p rz
uncommon theme
The foliage begins at the mouths of
grotesque birds and moves in spiral shapes over the panel.
The carving is low in relief, the background punched and the
inner marginal lines slope toward the carving.
The French influence was felt more perhaps
in Spain than in England.
French architects built the
great Cathedrals of Burgos and Leon and these were mainly
decorated by the French.
Eastern and western theories of
art were combined in religious architecture, and in the
building of the massive fortresses.
The sources of Medieval sculpture and of Medieval
Victoria and Albert Museum, Picture Book of French
Art, I. Medieval (London: Materlow and Sons, Ltd., 1951),
fig. 18.
Rowe, ojd. cit. , p. 116.
Ibid., p. 125.
architecture in Spain are similar*
Rarely were scared
personages interpreted in the round, yet the wood statue
of the "Virgin” in the Fogg Art museum, tv/elfth century,
is unusual in its strong and architectural execution,
imaginative and powerful.
The figure is a member of a
deposition group— a favorite subject of the Spanish carver
with the draperies treated in a broad and impressive manner.
The deposition group, St. loan de las Abadesas, thirteenth
century, is typical of the restrained naturalism, idealized
dignity, and grace of Spanish sculpture."
The compositional
arrangement of the triumphal arches of 'Rome is found in the
reliefs in the Cathedral of Zamora.26
Until about the year 1400, Spanish art remained true
to its prototypes.
Then came the direct influence from
Burgundy, Flanders, and Germany.
The reredos continued
to hold the greatest concentration of effort and expressive
realism became apparent.
This new departure is notable in
the wood retablo in the Cathedral of Seville."
The intri-
Handbook, Fogg Art i.luseum, Harvard University, 3rd
edition (Cambridge: University Press, 1S36), pp. 26-49.
R. R. Tallocl: and others, Spanish A r t , (London:
B. T. Batsfora, Ltd., 1927), Sculpture, plate 7.
Liarcel Dieulafoy, Art in Spain and Portugal (Hew
York: Charles Scribner*s Sons, 1923}, pp. 109-112.
Haskell, o p . cit., plate AAAI.
cate, lace-like carving reveals a grandiose incrustation
of forms, combining architectural units and figure groups
derived from the Biblical narrative.
The pattern is
agitated, excessive in elaboration, dramatic, and spiritual
in conception,
The Italians, unlike the French, tended to
look upon wood-carving as a mere decoration, often unre­
lated to the general architectural scheme.
During the early
Medieval period, carving in northern Italy fell into one
of two schools.
Such savagery of Romanesque subjects as
battle and hunting scenes and strange beasts were popular.
The second school, which was founded by Fra Guglielmo,
preferred the human figure and treated it with a simple and
rude Lonbardian vigor.
Benedetto of Parma is one of the most notable
sculptors of the second period.
In his work are found many
analogies to the carvings of Arles and St. Gilles.
free and broad treatment in BenedettoTs handling is found
in the relief “Descent from the Cross/’ dating 1178, in the
Cathedral of Parma.^
In figure groups, the only subject treated frequently
and in a monumental manner was the ’’Descent from the Cross.”
Raimond Van Marie, ”A Thirteenth Century, ’Descent
from the Cross,’” International Studio, 97:26, October, 1930.
The posing of the figures followed the established pre­
cedent; three or four figures, the two closest to the
figure of the Christ in gestured movements and aiding the
central figure, already detached from the cross and with
the arms hanging.
The figures on each end of the group
are contrastingly more erect,
?tThe sculptor in wood has
conserved an archaism and a refined conventional subtlety
of line which link him, as well as the contemporary Italian
painting with the old Byzantine tradition.”
In Tuscany, many of the carvings seem to have the
character of work done by Lombard craftsmen, plus an in­
fluence from Provence.
The foliage and decorative motifs
are carved with unusual skill and adroitness, while the
figure work seems to be less dexterous.
Tuscan carving
was done chiefly on architectural members, and furniture,
such as the work by Guido de Como on the pulpits for S.
Bartolommeo in Pantano at Pistoia.
Lucca and i-isa
dominated the artistic activity in Tuscany during the
Lledieval period.
The art of Byzantium and of the classical period is
reflected in the carving in southern Italy.
Ibid., p. 27.
Chase and Post, o£. cit., p. 214.
Usually the
panels contain single figures of saints, cavaliers, archers,
or decorative mythological leasts, centaurs, sirens, or
as models.
Byzantine ivories or goldsmith’s work were used
The influence of the Antique is found prin­
cipally in pieces of ecclesiastical furniture.
The choir
stalls in S. Pietro die Cassinensi, Perugio., 1535, show
the use of stucco relief of arabesque pattern recalling
Roman decoration and combined with classical columns, and
In the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, is a
column capital of chestnut dating from the twelfth cen32
It is one of four from a pulpit at Salerno.
pattern is rich and boldly executed, with figures which are
slightly in the round and surrounded by conventionalized
foliage, rosettes, and palmettes.
The textural treatment
of the hair, garments, and foliage is varied, and suggests
the limitations and possibilities of wood as a decoration.
From the Norman Conquest in 1066 to the
middle of the twelfth century, may be said to be the first
of two periods of early Medieval sculpture in England.
Turner, ojo. cit. , plate VII.
Alan Durst, Wood Carving (New York: Studio Publi­
cations, 1938), p. 52, plate 23.
There was a fusion of forms and concepts derived from a
■barbaric heritage, and there were elements drawn from the
Celtic tradition and from Scandinavia,
Christian symbolism
was imposed on the monsters of Norse mythology and the
fighting warrior became St, G-eorge or St, Michael.
lacing arabesque remained popular.
The second period of carving dates roughly from the
latter half of the twelfth century and bears the mark of
French influence,
modeling in the round and better pro­
portions took the place of the flat relief and use of
incised lines.
Biblical subjects became the carvers’ sub­
The carver of northern England received inspiration
from the work of Languedoc and surpassed the south in the
realization of form.
The angel from the roof beam of an Last Anglican
church of the fifteenth century, in the Victoria and Al­
bert Museum, shows great strength in the incisive and
simple treatment of the drapery and wings, and in its compactness of form.
The carving and grain of the oakis
enhanced by the use of a forceful change of planes.
Mouldings were used freely.
The dog-tooth pattern
is typical of early carving and is composed of square
33 Durst, o£. cit., p. 56, plate 25.
pyramids with deep cuts in each surface.
hollowed with a gouge or are flat.
These are either
Two concentric incised
circles, cut with a gouge on a hollow moulding usually
alternated with the dog-tooth pattern*
The foliated finial, which terminates the bench
ends in King’s Lyra, is elaborate in decoration and reveals
the tendency to over decorate.
This fifteenth century
carving pictures St. Nicholas combined with intricate
running foliage pattern in high relief.
Running patterns of foliage were popular in the early
sixteenth century.
The ground was kept uniform, with
vertical bands separating the rounded forms, giving accent
to the delicate carving.
Carving is again finding a place in contemporary
This is probably due to the (1) return of archi­
tectural sculpture, both in relief and in the round, and
the recognition of the capacity and limitation of carving
Because of the revival of architectural sculpture,
many of the contemporary carvers, such as Ernst Barlach,
Gardner, Handbook of English Medieval Sculpture,
o p . cit.., p. 308, figure 377.
Ivan Llestrovic, and Eric G-ill have turned to Lledieval
carving for inspiration.
In their relief decora'tions, the
system of organization, use of planes, control of depth and
linear pattern, is not unlike that of the early medieval
Their work may "be "briefly summed up as the type of
decoration designed to give accent, retain the identity,
and stress the function of architecture.
Also the use of
symbols, conventions, elongated and geometrically simple
forms suggests the work of the Lledieval carver.
A dissatisfaction with the existing academic styles
has led, about 1910, to a search by progressive artists
for some new line of thought or process of creation.
was sought, expression of emotion, and truth to material.
Earlier traditions played a part in the style of the in­
dividual; African, archaistic, and Lledieval sculpture were
The thought, approach, and result of carving
in relation to architecture were digested.
characteristics outweighed the traditional.
Ernst Barlach has little interest in the refinements
of modeling or in inventing variations in compositions.
is primarily inspired by the Lledieval carvers of Germany.
"Like them, Barlach used voluminous draperies, expression­
ist gestures and faces which have more character than sweet-
He was one of the discoverers of primitive art
and saw the relationship to expressive Gothic carvings.
Barlach owes a great deal to Van Gogh in the interpretation
of his violent, passionate, religious personalities.
Like those of the painter, his subjects are mystical, in
the perception of spiritual forces beneath natural
Gerhard Harcks is related to the Barlach group of
Eis figures are architectonic in structure and
filled with great and ponderous dignity.
Stress on the meaning of the building as well as
the function is found in the carvings of the Yugoslav,
Ivan Mestrovic.
Basically, his art is linear in concept
and not three dimensional.
His wooden panels, "The Temp­
tation" and "Christ Driving Honey Changers Out of the
Temple,” are strong in their meaningful simplicity, in
the use of the elongated and expressive line, and in the
textural relationships of the carved wood.
The Englishman, Eric Gill gained his appreciation
Alfred E. Barr, Jr., "German Painting and Sculp­
ture," Museum of Modern Art, Catalogue, (Hew York: Museum
of Modern Art, 1931), p. 14.
Paul 0. Rave, Deutsche Bildnerkunst (Berlin:
Julius Bard Verlag, 1929), plate LIII.
Ivan Mestrovic,and others, Ivan mestrovic (Zagreb,
Nova Evropa, 1933), plates LAZVT, LAXVII.
of Medieval carving from the work of Mestrovic.
His re­
lief in Westminster Cathedral, "The Body of <Tesis is Laid
in the Torah,” is lyrical in vein, flat-surfaced, and in
rz o
low relief.
He has made effective use of monumental
lettering in his decorative and somewhat stylized design.
He is an expert technician and his designs are derived from
English Medieval manuscripts.
I. ICirchmayer of Oberammergau is well known for his
ecclesiastical carving.
He worked in the Gothic tradition,
the tradition of the wood-carvers of Germany; however,
faces of his figures are more personal and the
figure is more varied.
his treatment
pose of the
But like the early Medieval carver,
is always simple, with beauty of
surface line,
and according to artistic plan.
Many other contemporary artists have received their
inspiration from the Medieval masters of carving.
similar understanding of iconographical significance and
aesthetic solution of forms results in such contributions
to plastic realisation of pattern in simple terms as Alfeo
Faggi’s "Stations of the Gross" in the Church of St. Thomas
the Apostle, in Chicago.
In France, doel and dan Martel
Albert Rutherston, editor, Eric Gill (New York:
Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1927), plate 18.
Halter Raymond Agard, The New Architectural
Sculpture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1935), plate 31.
have demonstrated their knowledge of hov; to obtain vitality
and charm in surface relief in the design for the stone
monument to Claude Debussy, Paris*
The composition is
not only used to relate the architecture to its environ­
ment, but portrays the music of Debussy in abstract
The theme is based on characteristic compositions
by the French composer: St. Sebastian, Pelleas and
*,Ielisande, impressions of the faun, and the sunken cathedral.
The dominating theme is composed of flat surfaces, the rest
of the panel of related planes which bend inward and around,
suggesting the lyrical.
The design is related to music,
both in pictorial idea and in construction.
The carved relief by Hans Panzer, Obermenzing,
in the Church of the Passion, is medieval in concept, with
expressive forms and simple iconography.
Ilany of the contemporary secular structures frankly
reveal that they were planned by engineers, with hard lines,
flat surfaces, rigid and cold.
?,It is apparent that we
are gradually adding to the new architecture, after becoming
sure of its structural soundness, that imaginative element
which transforms it from engineering into an art."
ever, Shepard Vogelgesang says, "Neither the functional
not the fantastic will ever be the sole answer for all
Luxury, utility, and fantasy are expressed only
in rare periods and by rare individuals.
The Colonial Exposition in laris, the Chicago
L orld1s Hair, and the Y.orld Hairs in San Erancisco and New
York of 1939 and 1940, did much to create an awareness of
the new architecture and the use of the decorative arts in
present day living.
Examples of the latter were as simple
in structure as contemporary building, giving a similar
effect of honesty and strength.
The objects displayed were
designed for utility and beauty of pure form; new materials
were interpreted in accordance with a new design concept.
A wide range of types and techniques, as used by the con­
temporary designer, reflects the interest in the product
of the scientific laboratory.
Pablo Picasso, Jean Niro,
Henri Natisse, Raul Dufy, Ruth Reeves, Hilaire Hiler, and
42 .
xgaru, o£. cit., p. 13.
Shepard Vogelgesand, Official Catalogue Division
Decorative Arts , Golden Gate International Exposition
TSan Hrancisco: H. S. Cracker Co., Inc., 3chwabacker-Prey
Co., 1939), p. 11.
Dorothy Liebes have made valuable contributions in the
field of textile design, using old and new material for the
decoration of the contemporary structure.
Synthetic yarns,
shining cellophanes, leathers, artificial horsehair, glass
threads, metals and lacquered plastics have been stimu­
lating to the designer; some the old and some the new product
of the laboratory, but all have been used to give a striking
contemporary note that has contributed widely to enjoyable
Certainly the art spirit of any age may well be
measured by the vitality in the design of everyday things.
During the course of the last twenty years, the
mode of furniture design has swung from the ornate to the
simple and considerations of utility have been made, which
may or may not have been overlooked in the past.
design is conditioned by tradition and a desire to bring
our environment into a closer alignment with twentieth
century life."
Our concepts of residential planning, the
use of the out-of-door spaces as part of the house, have
suggested a new approach to architectural design.
with the decorative arts in general related in
severity and precision to the contemporary structure, is
Dorothy ..right Liebes, Official Catalogue Divi­
sion of Decorative A r t s , op. cit., p. 8.
Alfred ^uerbach, ibid., p. 47.
it not possible also for carving as an architectural decora­
tion to be used to enhance our living?
"On its walls, in­
stead of profusely spreading brac-a-brac, they will design
reliefs geometric in essential structure, which will not
be casual, but functional, serving some definite purpose
in calling attention to the architectural members of resolving dry lines into a more flexible rhythm."
A {*
Lee Lawrie’s reliefs on the exterior of the Nebraska
Capitol Building are not only related to the architecture
in their sharp recessed relief, but place the building in
its environment.
His use of pastel colors and dull gold
gives symbolic expression to the group of buildings in
Rockefeller Center in his figures over the entrances to
the main building.
"Wisdom" emerges obliquely in a
series of developing planes.
A break with stylistic tradition and an attempt to
express in present-day terms the problem of ecclesiastical
building is observed in the St. Aeter Claver Aission, Llontclair, 1T. d.^8
The architect, painter, and sculptur have
collaborated in the design.
The altar rail is Macassar ebony
flexwood with aluminum, the wood carved in simple geometric
Agard, on.- cit. , p. 14.
W. Aumonier, editor, Modern Architectural Sculpture
(New York: Charles ScribnerTs Sons, 1950}, p p . 60-64.
Stanley Casson, Sculpture of Today (London:
Oxford University Press, H. Milford, 1939), p. 97.
pattern and painted.
Two figures in the round are used,
one of St. Jude in 'black walnut and above the altar a
large figure in teak wood of the crucified Christ, as King,
by G-eorge Kratina.
The figures are simply and boldly
carved, structural and interesting in the display of woody
textures against the brick walls.
The relation of a structure to its environment is
shown by the reliefs in the R. LI. S. !,Quesn Mary."
The two
wood panels of irregular contour by Bainbridge Copnall,
"Air" and "Storm,"
49 in the main restaurant on C Deck,
depicts the powerful elements which govern navigation to
some extent.
They are composed of central figures
against a background of symbolic shapes, the planes simply
Details were not used, the strength of the carving
is dynamic, low in relief and well controlled.
In the
Smoking Room of the ironenade Deck are carved lime-wood
screens by James Woodford.
The designs were mainly
executed with the veiner, the surfaces intentionally roughed
and three definite carving planes created.
The forms of the
John 3. Tangerman, Design and figure Carving (London:
Whittlesey Trouse, TTew York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1940), p.
82, figs. 512 and 513.
Hov/ard Meyers, editor, "Church of St. Peter Claver,"
Architectural Forum, 72:578, June, 1940.
Tangerman, ojd. cit., p. 104, figs. 708 and 709,
figures, engaging in indoor and outdoor sports, are textured with, outlines within the forms and treated with
slight modeling.
Piercing has been used with ingenious
The use of such decorations gives harmony
and zest to the modern rooms, furnished in the twentieth
century inode.
At present, the wood-carver is still wed largely to
the ecclesiastical carvings, and to those for novel
His place in the adornment of secular architec­
ture lies in his ability to design in wood, either from
the standpoint of functionalism or fantasy, objects which
have significance for contemporary life.
The creation of a carved overmantel panel for the
home of Hr. and Mrs. Hitched Milder of Colorado Springs,
Colorado required certain preliminary considerations before
the actual carving was begun.
Since the house was com­
pleted before the need for a carved panel was seen, the
problem presented was of a different character than one in
which there is collaboration of artist and architect.
Architectural requirements and the desires of the
occupants of the house were determining factors in regard
to the type of design most appropriate, the nature of the
theme, and its handling.
The purpose of this chapter was to record and des­
cribe the development of work and execution of the over­
mantel decoration.
The procedure was divided into three
(1) the preliminary considerations of the problem in
(2) the aesthetic aspects, and (3) the technical
procedure in the actual carving of the panel.
The preliminary considerations for the decoration
might be divided, for the sake of clarification, under the
following headings:
(l) location and scale,
(2) type of
(3) technique, and (4) the nature of the theme*
Location and scale.
The carved panel in question
is to he used over the mantel in a living room of con­
temporary design.
The prototype for this particular type
of architecture is found in the geometric adobe dwellings
in the Southwest.
Strong simplification of structural forms
resulted in a room of elongated proportions.
The east wall,
on which the black marble, fireplace is centered, is twentynine and one-half feet in length and nine and one-half feet
in height, including the cornice.
The symmetry of the
smooth plastered wall is further emphasized by two doors
equally spaced from and on either side of the fireplace.
These doors measure six feet nine inches in height and two
feet ten and one-half inches in width.
The furniture, in a
hearth-centered arrangement, is of contemporary design:
overstuffed couches, wood tables, and lamps.
The upholstery
is of rough fabrication, such as raw silk, cottons, and nubby
tweeds; the wood is light in color and of natural finish.
The cool and subdued yet rich value and color of the
furnishings is in harmony with the character of the room.
Light greyed-green tile is used for the flooring (PI. I,
p. 74 .) •
The "black marble fireplace is of plain design and
has a dull finish.
II, p. 75.).
It was built flush to the wall (PI.
The fireplace measures four feet in height
and three feet eight inches in width.
Thus, the distance
above the fireplace and to the cornice is four feet and
eight inches.
The very nature of the fireplace, its size,
value, and color, gave it the appearance of being a thing
apart from the architectural scheme.
On each end of the room are large triple windows.
Horizontal aluminum strips give v;idth to the end walls.
Light from the south exposure is brilliant; from the north,
Although the light is irregular in intensity, it might
be said to be consistent.
It was necessary to consider the
effect the nature of this light would have on the carving.
It was realized that the size of the room, twenty-nine
feet and six inches in length and fourteen and one-half feet
in width, would suggest a decoration which would be viewed
at close range.
Furthermore, the related and harmoniously
simplified architectural units of the room governed the
size and treatment of the planes in the carving.
A too-
intricate design would not only be unrelated to the room and
the fireplace as a unit, but would emphasize the carving
itself, existing alone and not as an integral part of the
architectural scheme.
Type of wood.
’food was suggested as a possible
medium for the panel, as it was used to some extent in the
furnishings of the room and in such architectural members
as the doors.
The fine grain of r o o d , and the texture
produced by carving would lend a harmonious yet contrasting
note to the smooth plastered walls.
A warm, light-colored wood was chosen; namely,
California-walnut, which would give a contrasting note to
the off-white wall and be related to the wood used for the
California-walnut is a hard even-textured wood
and lends itself well to carving.
The walnut panel was
obtained, glued s.nd sized, from the Tropical Hardwood
Company, Huntington Park, California.
The immense amount of direct light prompted
a design of low relief in order not to break the structure
of the wall of which it was a part, by too strong contrasts
of light and shadow.
for the panel.
A one-inch thickness was selected
This would allow for a carving of sufficient
depth and still take its place on the plane of the ws.ll
without becoming a protruding element.
As suggested by one
of the members of the thesis committee, the internal strains
in the wood, set up by the thickness and thinness of the
carving, would necessitate a carving depth of not more than
one-half inch in any part of the design.
Since the carved panel was to be viewed at close
range, seen in clear and unreflected light, and be part of
the daily environment, a design without too much agitation
or dynamic action seemed appropriate#
As reviewed in the work of the Medieval carver, the
result of the carving tool night give an arresting effect.
The spirit of the carving to be created demanded a technique
which would be not labored, but vigorous, and displaying
the nature of the medium.
Harmony with the subject and
material would be the desired result of the tooling.
Nature^ of the them e .
The occupants of the house, for
whom the overmantel panel was to be carved, are erudite
students interested in the many and various phases of study
of the Southwest: the land, the people, and the contributions
of both.
It was suggested that the theme of the carving be
related to or an interpretation of the culture of the South­
Also, it was made clear that greater interest should
lie not in the contributing forces of the American Indian
culture, but rather in that of Hispanic-America.
The early
contributors of the culture were investigated by the writer.
Exploration, due to the spirit of adventure, the
desire for wealth, or the conversion of the natives to
Christianity, transported culture from sixteenth century
Spain to the Americas,
This force led directly to Spanish
occupation of the Southwest and the development of His­
panic -American culture,
In order that the carved panel he not merely a
result of handicraft, the aesthetic embodiment of the idea
was of principal importance.
The inspiration to create the
panel emerged not only from the desire to provide a
decoration which would make the room more beautiful
architecturally, but also to reflect the interests of Mr.
and Mrs. ..ilder.
Thus, a theme which would carry out the
purposes of the carver was carefully studied.
The aesthetic
solution of the problem divided itself into two parts, each
interacting with the other: first, the theme, and the in­
terpretation of the theme in regard to the second, namely,
the size and form of the panel.
The theme.
To conceive a single decoration which
would suggest the culture of the Southwest or the spirit
of that culture was difficult.
However, readings and
discussions of the theme led to the discovery of a wealth
of good and useable material.
The explorations of Narvaez was one of the earliest
in the New Horld.
He and his high-ranking soldiers of
Spain, who had given themselves to the urge of adventure,
explored the Southwest in the very early years of the six­
teenth century.
This partly preceded the better known
adventures and conquests of Coronado.
The wrecking of one of the vessels off the coast
of Texas resulted in the exploration of the northern
settlements of Mexico--across the continent to the Pacific
and then south to San Aiguel de Culiacan, by a few companions
and their leader, Cabeza de Vaca.^- Four of these men
wandered for eight years in a wilderness no European had
Haniel Long gives an interesting insight to the leader
of the group:^
I was at the battle of Ravenna in 1512.
dawn and sunset that day perished a thousand score.
Young as I was, Ravenna taught me something of how
easy to tear asunder and destroy a man is, body and
In the days that followed, in my desolation
first confronted with slaughter, I saw a far off
light, heard a far off strain of music.
The "distant music" heard by Cabeza was a guiding
Was it that thing which led him to adventure and
enabled him to surmount the problems of existence in a vast
and unknown wilderness?
This hope, this drive, this inner
Harvey Fergusson, Rio Grande (Hew York: Alfred A.
Knopf, 1933), p. 41.
Haniel Long, Interlinear to Cabeza de Yaca (Santa
Fe, Hew Llexico: Rydal Press, 1936), p. 7.
urge has bean an important and popular theme with philosophers
and poets; new names have been given, but with similar in­
Cabeza de Yaca was a son of wealth, of
Spanish nobility and culture, a saint to the Indians, and
an important leader in the Spanish exploratory movement.
Once again, in the relation of his journey to His majesty,
Cabeza speaks of the ^distant music” :
Through this region there are no trails, and I lost
my way.
I found a burning tree to spend that very cold
night beside.
In the morning I loa.ded myself with dry
wood, and took two burning sticks.
Thus with fuel and
fire, I went on for five days, seeing nobody, but having
the sun with me by day and Mazzoroth and Arcturus by
night. Hothing of me, your Majesty, existed then
outside of that music I first heard at Ravenna.
From the above word picture, the subject of the theme
was taken.
Size and form of the panel.
The exploratory leader
who contributed so greatly to the possible transplanting of
Spanish culture and its development in the Southwest was thus
selected to be interpreted in the California-walnut panel.
The size of the bas-relief was governed by the size of the
fireplace, the space above the fireplace, the dimensions of
the room, and the height and length of the east wall in
The wall space directly above the fireplace, that
Ibid., p. 19-20.
is, the area of which the width is the same as that of the
mantel and the height of which is the distance from mantel
to cornice, is three feet eight inches in width and four
feet eight inches in height.
By the nature of the fire­
place, just any type of panel decoration would not he
architecturally suitable.
A panel of regular contour
placed directly over the mantel would emphasize the thick­
ness of the panel and make s. poor relationship to the fire­
place and the wall as a structural unit.
Thus, a design with
an irregular contour but which would suggest the general
rectangular area it would occupy, was suggested.
Also, it
would be necessary to emphasize both the vertical and the
horizontal lines in the design in order to give a feeling
of unity with other outstanding architectural members.
interpretations of the theme and the elements involved would
build the design.
The vision of Cabeza de Vaca carved in walnut, and
of the panel in place, brought several design factors to
the attention of the carver.
Due to the size of the panel,
the figure would be of almost life-size proportions.
a very decorative and linear concept as wrell as a textural
treatment, rather than a naturalistic one, seemed appropriate.
Furthermore, the nature of the medium employed called for
a woody conception rather than a realistic aspect.
shallow relief would be best related to the style of
architecture if the details were minimized.
However, too
much simplification would not give the desired enrichment.
The extreme length of the east wall in relation to
its height prompted much thought in regard to the design
of the panel for architectural function.
Two questions
(1) Would a design with dimensions the same as that
of the space directly above the fireplace, the width
governed by the width of the mantel and the height the
distance from the top of the fireplace to the cornice, tend
to make a single vertical unit on a wall which emphasized
horizontally, thus cutting the wall,? or (2) Y/ould a
decoration in which important vertical movements are
governed by the width of the fireplace, yet exceeding it
in width, be more related to the wall?
Preliminary designs.
To the carver, Cabeza was a
wirey, energetic, and forceful figure; a pioneer and spirit­
ual missionary among unknown forces.
Thus, in the inter­
pretation of such a character, the symbol of the very be­
ginning of Hispanic-American culture, a motif was developed.
The birth of this culture is not only expressed by the
springing gesture of the figure, but also by the placement
of the morning sun, in map-like position, in the upper right
hand corner of the design.
A saintly halo is suggested by
the use of the sun disc directly behind the head*
more, the position of the head in lost-profile symbolizes
a glimpse into the unknown, a usage found also in the work
of such a master as Orozco.
The yucca plant places the
figure in the arid land of the Southwest.
Repeated move­
ments are found in the line of the burning tree and the
flaming torches.
Arcturus and Mazzoroth take a minor
position in the design and further suggest the element of
The entire composition is bound together by the
flowing rhythm of the "distant music," weaving a pattern
in some places and lending itself as a contour in others.
The four lines found in the written Medieval music were
Many linear sketches were made before one was accepted
by the thesis committee and by the carver.
Pencil sketches
of a free character were done until a pictorial yet
decorative idea of the theme was reached.
In the early
stages of designing, the figure was given its diagonal
The head in lost-profile and certain anatomical
features were used for the sake of reality.
The left leg
Alma Reed (introduction), Jose Clemente Orozco
(New York: Delphic Studios, 1932), National Preparatory
School, Mexico City, decoration in the vault: "Youth."
was foreshortened, in order to suggest depth (PI. Ill,
(a), p . 76.).
Criticisms were laade by the committee and resulted
in the use of a more emotional and decorative line in the
The left leg was firmly planted, giving more
strength to the figure and not breaming the wall plane,
and the loin cloth was drawn to move with the figure rather
than act as an oppositional force.
A more flame-like
movement in the line of the burning tree was suggested; a
movement which would lead into and not out of the panel.
To emphasize a more clockwise movement, the position of the
right arm was changed.
The flame now moved in a more
natural manner (PI. Ill,
(b), p. 76.).
The line of the tops of the doors on either side of
the fireplace was used as a means of stressing horizontality
in the panel and relating the panel to the wall, by the
placement of the arms in the design.
By strong verticals
in the tree, the fore-arms of the figure, and in the stalk
of the yucca, the horizontal was further emphasized.
waves of music in the upper part of the design, the lines
in the stars, the dominant movement in the leaves of the
yucca, and the earth patterns are horizontal rhythms
(PI. Ill,
(b), p . 76.).
Other suggestions for changes followed as the drawing
of the design progressed.
These v/ere incorporated in the
panel design with suggestions for carving planes (PI. IV,
(c), p. 77 •).
The lines symbolizing music were brought
down and behind the figure and then up and along the
lower left hand side of the panel.
This gave greater
strength to the design by tieing the lower section to­
gether, and lent a note of interest to the lower left hand
corner, a section of the design which had been relatively
Also, the stalk of the yucca was moved to
the left in order to make a more varied space division and
serve as a better support for the figure.
For the sake of
pattern, the right arm was given its former position.
Although the design had been drawn in relation to
the linear structure and dark value of the fireplace, it
was thought important to see the relation of this unit to
the wall and to the room in general.
Therefore a tone draw­
ing of the living room shewing the panel over the mantel
was rendered (Plate V, p. 78 .).
This pencil drawing re­
vealed that the panel and fireplace functioned as a unit,
but that the two combined were a vertical shaft which cut
the wall in halves.
Obviously the ceiling line seemed to
be pulled downward in the center.
Thus, it was necessary
that the horizontal element in the unit be further strength­
ened in order to relate it to the wall.
An architect advised the use of a shorter panel for
the carving and the mounting of it on a larger piece of
fibre or plyboard which would not only frame the design but
would extend beyond the width of the fireplace and thus re­
peat the horizontality of the wall.
Furthermore, a ply­
board panel of lighter colored wood than California-walnut
would introduce another interesting and related texture
and serve as an intermediate value, tieing the carved panel
to the wall.
It was then decided that the carving should measure
forty-four inches in width and fifty inches in height.
The ply-board would extend three inches above the top of
the actual carving and three inches below.
To accentuate
the horizontality of the room and to lend interest by
varied proportions, it was suggested that the ply-board
might extend five inches on either side of the carved panel.
(pi. vi,
(a), p. 79 .).
The drawing on w o o d .
Instead of transfering the
design from an enlarged drawing of the accepted sketch, the
design was recreated on the panel.
This procedure was
suggested by a member of the committee and done in order
that the drawing on the wood be as vivid and forceful as
the small preliminary sketch.
In this recreation, a few
minor adjustments were made; adjustments v/hich seemed
necessary to increase the architectural and decorative treat­
ment of the design.
(PI. VII, p. 80 .).
Carving; the panel.
It was not the purpose of the
writer to relate how a wood-carving is made.
Books on
this subject are listed in the Bibliography and will supply
the subject matter for those interested, and some of the
precedents of wood-carving are briefljr reviewed in parts
four and five of Chapter Two.
But a few words, as to the
practices and observations of the writer, in regard to the
problem of this thesis as here given.
In wood-carving, it is necessary for the cutting edge
of the tool to be kept sharp in order to give maximum
Coarse and fine whet stones were used; the
fine ones for putting a keen edge on the chisels.
sharpening the inside of gouges, oilstone slips of varying
size were employed.
An oilstone which was lubricated with
machine oil was found useful for rubbing down superfluous
Two horizontal cleats were screwed to the back of
the panel, at the top and bottom, to prevent warping.
panel was then fixed in position for carving by wedging
it between nails which were driven into a large bench.
nails not only held the work firmly, but allowed for easy
removal of the carving.
It was necessary to stand the
panel upright from time to time in order to better see
the relationship of planes and the development of the carving
in general.
With the tools sharp and the wood fixed to the bench,
the panel was ready to be carved.
The large forms such as the figure, the tree, stars,
and yucca were "set in," that is, the flat chisel or a
gouge of slight sweep was held in a vertical position,
perpendicular to the surface of the panel and struck with
a mallet.
Other forms were outlined in like manner and to
a cutting depth of one-fourth inch.
The areas between such
forms were to be lowered and were gouged out, known as
"hosting in" or "roughing out" the relief.
sible gouges were used with the mallet.
The largest pos­
I£ven at this stage
of the carving, the surface texture was interesting; the
cutting was clean and in contrast to the smooth protruding
When this grounding was completed, the forms which
were to stand out the furthest were "set in" again; this
time the depth was one-half inch.
important forms was reduced.
(The panel design with sug­
gested planes for carving, PI. IY,
a guide.)
The surface of less
(c), p.77 was used as
The background was cleared and the inner forms
of planes were shaped with a gouge or chisel.
The greatest thickness of wood was used for each
element according to the design of the relief.
The lines
were cut clean and emphasized by not having any two ad­
jacent planes meet on the same level.
The "V" tool was
used for further emphasizing the linear aspect of the de­
sign in the treatment of the hair and the hands.
It was
suggested that the figure would be more pleasing in effect,
if it were treated with more modeling than the other forms
and smoothly finished in contrast with a textured back­
ground and surrounding forms.
In all other areas, the
size, type, and the way the tool was used gave the wood
its textural enrichment.
After the completion of the carving,
the contour was cut by a band-saw.
The height of this edge
was lowered or rounded in order that the contour would not
be too strong an oppositional line to the background and
that the outer edge of the forms would be treated in a
consistent manner with the rest of the carving.
The figure was sanded smooth with a medium and then
a fine grade of sandpaper.
Planes of the carving with their
different textured surfaces were unified by a light appli­
cation of a heavy floor wax and polished with a soft cloth.
This type of finish not only enhances the color and the
grain of the wood but also serves as a finish which sim­
plifies the removal of dust and like debris which might
collect on a carving of this nature.
The carving was placed on the ply-board panel,
three fourths inches in thickness, fifty-six inches in height,
and fifty-four inches in width, which had been covered with
two-ply monks-cloth of natural color.
This type of back­
ground was selected as monks-cloth is similar in texture
to the upholstery of the furniture and would be a trans­
itional color betv/een the carved wood panel and the offwhite plaster wall.
The background and carving were
attached by screws from the under side.
The overmantel
decoration was ready to be placed (See PI. VII, p. 80.).
The creation of a carved California-walnut over­
mantel panel for the home of Mr. and Mrs. Mitchel Wilder,
of Colorado Springs, Colorado
description of its design and
execution was the problem of
this thesis.
solved by meeting the (1)
The problem was
p.80 ,) and the
architectural requirements and (2) the interests and desires
of the occupants for whom the decoration was being made.
A historical survey of the art of wood-carving, principally
that of the Middle Ages and its relation to contemporary
carving was presented.
The contemporary style of architecture in Colorado
reveals the influence of the adobe structure in the South­
west with broad simple planes and a predominate horizontal
line scheme.
By the nature of the room and the particular
purpose of the decoration, wood was selected as a possible
medium for the overmantel panel.
It was important that the
carved panel and fireplace function as a unit and
strengthen the structure of the wall and at the same time
be related to the room in general.
The color and texture
of the wood repeated those of the furnishings of the room,
and a textural carving in low bas-relief of a linear concept
seemed appropriate for a decoration to be seen at close
inspection and in a clear and even light.
An appropriate theme was chosen: the introduction
of Hispanic-American culture by Cabeza de Vaca.
The inter­
pretation of this theme introduced a personal element by
reflecting the interests of the Hilders, and harmonized with
the architectural style of the room, as well as lending a
note of fantasy.
The procedure involved in the development of the
panel gave the actual solution of the problem.
The theme
designed in wood was governed not only by the architectural
style and iconographical and aesthetic interpretation, but
by the limitation of the medium or the nature of the material.
A decorative rather than a sculptural treatment was used in
the carving, for the problem was one of textural enrichment.
Thus, the type of carving was controlled by its value as an
architectural decoration in wood.
The problem was not to produce new con­
tributions to the art of wood-carving but to create a
suitable overmantel decoration in carved wood for a house
of contemporary design.
However, as wood has not been
generally used for the embellishment of the interior of such
architecture, it was hoped that a precedent might be es­
tablished and that the possible use of carved wood for its
decorative value would be strengthened.
In regard to the
function of the design, the work was primarily done to lend
a note of interest by contrast and harmony of line, form,
color, and texture to the architectural setting and by in­
troducing a personal element into a room which was the
result of mere engineering calculations.
In contemporary architectural design, there is need
for enrichment where simple geometric masses emphasizing
line and strong relationship in the use of material and
architectural function are combined with fantasy of a kind,
significant for contemporary life.
Such contemporary
carvers as Ernst Barlach, Eric G-ill, and Ivan Mestrovic
realized this need.
Their wood-carving gives accent and
stress to the function of the architecture involved through
using planes, forms, conventions, linear patterns, and by
preserving the identity of the material as found in the art
of the Medieval v/ood-carver•
The carved overmantel decoration in California-walnut
accomplishes the purpose for which it was intended; it en­
hances the structural soundness of the architecture and
lends an imaginative and personal element.
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