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Carving a Niche in the World

The Carmel Sun

This article was written when the Mark Andrew Sculpture Studio was located in Carmel. It is now in Eugene, Oregon.

"I want to fulfill people's dreams about having art work in their home," said 33 year old wood carver, Mark Andrew. Mark has embraced the age old trade with a personal vendetta against it dying as an art form. He also hopes to use his talents as a craftsman for a source of enrichment for the community.

According to Mark, wood carving is a medium people are unaccustomed to seeing. It is a three dimensional, tactile, feeling art that currently has very limited opportunities. "Working in the third dimension is not very strongly pushed so you can walk around it and put your hands on it. It's important to provide that opportunity to people.

The masters of the trade are quickly diminishing, giving way to less expensive and more easily produced plastic and metal pieces. As a dedicated tradesman, Mark hates to see this happen. "The trade is in danger of dying out arid I want of preserve it and hand it over to the next generation."

Mark, who says he is 99 percent self taught, got his start in wood carving over twelve years ago. He had always liked the art form but never took any formal training in it until his family moved to Switzerland where there is a strong tradition of carving. He was impressed by the maze of artisans living simple lives and turning out intricate' wood works. According to Mark it was a cultural enrichment that was riot available in the United States.

"At that point I was determined in what I wanted to do," he said.

His family left Europe and settled in Oregon. Mark attended architectural school then switched to wood sculpting. The most direction he could get, he said, was to leave school, retreat to the fringe of society and devote all his time to carving.

Hungry for the art, he returned to Europe to find himself an instructor. Unfortunately in Europe they are not interested in taking Americans as students, he said and the few places that were willing to teach him had five year waiting lists.

Recognizing his determination, one instructor outlined the chisels he would need. "With my own drive I would at least have the tools to carve. If I had enough persistence to see through this visions I would succeed,” he said.

He served a brief apprenticeship with one American instructor (the first one in fifteen or twenty) and worked ten hour days with no pay.

From the start Mark said his carvings were positive and felt comfortable. He advanced from the simple lines of a Madonna with little detail to the intricate murals and the three dimensional works he turns out today. Currently his pieces are on display at the Wood Carvers Gallery in the Crossroads. He has also produced a variety of commission pieces and loves the challenge brought by each new client. "You never know what people are going to ask you to do," he said.

Mark increases his own knowledge with each piece he works on. He studies his subject matter in an effort to be as anatomically accurate as possible. Through his carvings he passes this newly acquired knowledge on to others.

Keeping in mind the clients budget, but also drawing on his own "spiritual" sense Mark finds the right block of wood, the one that "holds the creative effort". Much of his wood, he said, comes to him from friends. Many of the larger chunks he has to buy.

The grain is an important factor in selecting a block. "Wood has a life of its own. It twists and the grain has to be worked with," said Mark. His favorite wood is walnut because of its rich dark color. "It carves well and holds details. Since I'm an artist who prides himself on correct details, it's important to have wood that holds that detail."

The design is chalked onto the block and the work with the tools begins. Mark has over 44 carving chisels in a variety of sizes, several mallets and saws.

With larger tools "you rough it in, then go over it with finer chisels and refine it," he said. "You go over the whole piece like a series of washes. One shaving at a time."

It's a slow process with hours of pounding. "Wood resists you. It's hard to carve and requires stamina and perseverance.”

It’s consuming work and you have to be careful so you don’t take away too much,” he said.

Pulling a form out of a solid block is the wonder of wood carving. It is evolutionary. It evolves right in front of you," he said.

"You start to see the color and the way the grain moves, and you start working with the grain to get the final form. It begins to take on personality, power and beauty and becomes more personal the closer you come to the finish."
Sometimes Mark will use a light stain to finish a piece to bring in areas of shadow. Most of the time he prefers to keep it simple and just use oil. The chisel cuts tend to produce their own finish, he said.

"Most American carving is stiff," said Mark. "I wanted to create pieces that moved. I want it to be very exciting so it grabs the attention of the viewers. I want to make them get closer, study it, look at the grain and its flow and learn from it," he said.
"In a small amount of space I try to trick the eye so people really see it (the action) and put their emotions in it."

To create pieces that continuously bring joy is Mark's main goal and he often puts more into his work than his clients pay for. "I want them to be fascinated with the overall design and how it was done. And to see that it was lovingly taken care of and nurtured."
Nurturing his carvings along is only part of his goal as a craftsman. One of his fantasies is to see carving and architecture recombined, having it built right into the design process. "We've moved away from embellishments to very simple lines which is very beautiful, but cold."

Mark envisions carved beams, cabinets, doors or possibly even wall paneling. This, he said, would give homeowners a chance to make a personal statement about themselves or express their personality. "I'd love to. come in and highlight people's houses. Places that will enrich their interiors like oak leaves or quails on the beams.”

He would also like the craft to be seen more by carving in public places so it becomes an event, a cultural happening." As with any artist, having his work on permanent display would also be a boon.

Mark's fondest dream, however, is to have a working shop with himself arid several other craftsmen. His dream includes seminars for local residents and classes. "Since I couldn't find a teacher I will become the teacher that I can't find," he said.

While waiting for patrons and students, Mark supplements his income by working at the Grapevine Deli in the Village. A recent resident, Mark and his family moved to the valley in September from Seattle, Washington. His wife Marie is also an artisan who makes handmade shoes. They have a five year old son, Zephyr, and a ten year old daughter, Mantania.

According to Mark there is a great deal more to his craft than creating a piece of art. "Many people find carving-relaxing. For me it's intense," he said. The challenge is in creating a piece that looks good from far away as well as close up."

Regardless of the piece he is working on Mark said, "Carving for me is a spiritual release. I feel closer to god and close to the earth in producing this work, To me carving is prayer in action."

"If I can open up myself as a channel, through good work I can open others eyes to the beauty around us," and according to Mark that is his purpose.
With patrons Mark said he is strong enough and willing to push the bounds of carving into new heights.

"This is not a passing fancy," he said about carving. "I've taken this on and realize it takes a lifetime to master. I'm committed to passing on my zeal to people that are around me."