Another month down in 2023, and I’m looking forward to Santa Fe Spring!
Last month I shared the progress I’d made with both the Kubbestol and the Ganesh Om pieces, and now both pieces are nearing completion. These pieces commanded most of my carving time in February so I’m excited to finish them up soon to get started on some new projects.
I’m getting very close to finishing this Norwegian-style Kubbestol (wooden chair) carved in northern basswood from a single log. It is carved in the baroque acanthus motif to give it movement and complexity.
The Greeks developed the Acanthus patterns around 450 BCE and it has been adopted by many regions over the centuries. This motif is still regularly used today in art and architecture.
The only remaining tasks I have for this project are to clean the edges, add the decorative cuts, add the seat, and seal it and it will be completed. This is the second kubbestol I’ve created and I have thoroughly enjoyed the process.
Last month I mentioned that a friend of a past client reached out to commission this cool Ganesh Om piece, and now I can share the process and final version with you!
After everything else was finished, I stained this piece, let it dry, and will be delivering it to the client soon! Here’s the completed piece I’ll be giving them:
We had 6″ of snow on February 14th! It’s days like this that make me realize just what a beautiful place Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico are to be.
I also recently led my men’s hiking group on the Santa Cruz Lake Trail (6,800′ elevatIon) near historic Chimayo, NM. (About 30 mins from Santa Fe). The trail is a 4.5 mile out and back with 400’ of elevation change with views of Santa Cruz lake. As you can see, the lake is partially frozen this time of year. The weather was snowy (34F) and cloudy.
Thanks for checking in about the updates from last month, looking forward to catching up with you again soon!
January was a month filled with continuing and new projects, teaching a few carving students, and beautiful Santa Fe weather for inspiration. As I gear up for another year of carving, sculpting, learning, teaching, etc, I look forward to the projects and events 2023 brings!
I’m happy to say I’m in the home stretch with the Kubbestol! With the outside of the back and seat nearly finished, I shifted focus to work on the inner back of the chair.
This month I plan to continue working on refining details on the outside of the chair while mostly focusing on completing the inside. After that, it’ll just need finishing touches and a stain!
I was also able to make some progress on this sculptural carving for a friend of mine who owns a floral shop. This piece has been an interesting and novel project for me!
The combination of creating something that is simultaneously 2D and 3D with the familiarity of working on botanical pieces has been both fun and complex.
Next up – finishing details and painting!
I received an awesome new commission from a couple in Chicago who are friends of a past client – an Om symbol and Ganesha combined into one piece. I’ve just recently finished the drawing and planning process for this piece, and am now at the beginning of the carving process.
These 3 pieces garnered the bulk of my time in January, and I look forward to sharing the progress with you here next month.
January also brought 2 hikes that were beautiful, strenuous, and chilly!
I hiked theCabra Loop Trail near Los Alamos, NM(35 miles from Santa Fe) with my men’s group. It was partially covered in snow, so we wore our spikes. We covered 6.05 miles with about 1,000’ of elevation change. It was sunny and 25 degrees at the start and climbed into the high 30’s by 12:30. Beautiful area!
I can’t believe it’s 2023. Hope all of you had a good holiday season!
Today I wanted to review many of the pieces I’ve worked on this year, it’s always nice to do this at the end of the year. This year I was able to work on so many unique projects, fun commissions, and got more experience teaching carving classes!
Let’s look through 2022’s work…
At the beginning of the year, my brother commissioned this family crest as a gift to his friend. I always enjoy working on pieces with a history behind them!
Commissioned Portraits – a good friend of mine in Texas commissioned me to make 2 relief carvings of his two sons. I always enjoy working on portraits, especially when they’re for a friend!
Kubbestol – the start of the kubbestol project! I had this shape cut; this was the rough finish before I started working on it.
Woman with Flowers – finished this piece, focusing on the fabric and draping.
I spent most of March in Italy which was an incredible way to explore and gain inspiration for future pieces. Being surrounded by so much art, beauty, and history is an artist’s dream!
In April of 2022, I mostly focused on the kubbestol when I had time for carving. Above on the left, you can see the drawing I developed before transferring them to the actual chair. On the right is the kubbestol after the surface had been sanded and smoothed, then the design was drawn on to check for spacing and size.
Kubbestol – I began the process of removing the background of the chair to begin to create a relief effect. I also started carving some of the rougher/larger details.
Woman Holding Flowers – I don’t typically create carvings that are large sculptural pieces of people, but I wanted to get outside of my comfort zone! A friend of mine mentioned wanting a sign for her floral shop, so I began the process of drafting and cutting out the rough shapes.
Woman Holding Flowers – In June I began focusing on the bundle of flowers the woman is holding in this piece. The first photo shows what the base of the flowers looks like after the shape was cut out with a saw.
Indigenous Hopi Woman – I was inspired by a photo I saw of a Hopi woman and decided I wanted to create a relief modeled after that photo. In the second photo you can see the rough drawing before I started carving the details, then the finished product in the 3rd and 4th photos.
This month I was busy with the Santa Fe Artist Tour, so I didn’t have much time to carve or sculpt. But I did work on this customized wooden box that was a commission from a friend!
In September, my main focus was creating this special commissioned sculpture piece for the parents of Autumn, their young daughter who passed away. In the first photo, you can see the beginning of the process of creating a relief sculpture portrait – first in plasticine then clay.
In November I received a unique commission for 2 wooden Byzantine wedding crowns! I’d never worked on anything like this before so it was an interesting process. In the top 3 photos, you can see the process of cutting and sizing the initial wood structure for the crown, followed by the sanded and ready base crowns. In the bottom photo, you can see the beginning of the detail carving process!
I continued working on the commissioned wedding crowns in December. In the first photo, you can see more of the carving process, then experimenting with what the wood will look like oiled, and lastly the 2 crowns when the carving was finished. I finished the crowns by staining them, using gold paint to create highlights, and adding photos and stones. The last photo was taken at the couple’s wedding!
All in all, 2022 was a pretty great year for me! I’ve been lucky enough to get to work on some great commissioned pieces, get out of my comfort zone, and gain inspiration from my travels to Italy and beautiful Santa Fe.
To any of you who read these blog posts, receive my email newsletters, or follow me on Instagram – thank you! Your support means a lot.
Looking forward into 2023 I’m excited to work on more projects, commissions, and continue expanding my craft. I hope this new year is good to all of you too!
Today’s post is the first in a series about Peter Mansbendel, a sculptor and woodcarver who serves as a huge source of inspiration for me. In fact, I spent years researching and studying Peter’s work and his life which led me in many fascinating, illuminating directions – so much so that I actually wrote a book about him! I figured I’d share some of his stories here with you, and this way you can understand why I find his artistic journey so enriching. This series of posts won’t necessarily be posted concurrently, as I like to switch things up from month to month depending on what I’m drawing inspiration from or am currently working on.
In 2004 I was researching Swiss woodcarvers who lived in the US when a booklet about Peter Mansbendel and his work popped up in the search results. It looked like some art museums in Texas had a few exhibits of Peter’s work in 1977, which led me to seek out the few of his carvings that made it up to Dallas homes.
I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to find the houses that displayed his work since the booklet only mentioned the homeowners from the 1920s. I decided to write to Ebby Halliday, the well-known relator, about the homes and she replied that one of the homes had been turned into a now famous hotel. She also said the other homes could be found by visiting Preservation Dallas. a historical home society, who told me that Peter lived in Austin.
After I began searching through Austin’s history, I learned as much as I could about Peter’s life and artistic work which led me in many fascinating, illuminating directions. Along the way, I was able to meet some of his living family members, study his work and techniques, and get to know the intricacies of this fascinating artist.
From 1800-1920 a wave of artists immigrated to the US, bringing their own traditions and artistic tastes from their unique backgrounds. One of these talented artists was Peter Mansbendel, a Swiss woodcarver who moved to Texas after falling in love with an American woman who lived in Austin. Unexpectedly, he became a vitally important Austin artist and community tastemaker who inspired others to incorporate and appreciate artistic design and beauty. Using chisels and gouges of every possible shape, he carved everything from inkwells to elaborate decorative pieces – many of which still adorn homes in Austin, TX today.
Peter Heinreich Mansbendel was born on August 12, 1883, in Basel, Switzerland to parents Valeria Siegrist and Johann Peter Mansbendel. Peter’s father, Johann, was a stern businessman who pushed his children to follow in his footsteps and didn’t allow for much deviation from that path – including Peter’s artistic talent and interest. Thankfully, his mother, Valeria, supported her son’s passion for art and encouraged him to continue carving and practicing different forms of art. Even as a child, Peter was said to have known he wanted to be a well-known artist!
At this time, freehand drawing was compulsory in Switzerland schools meaning Peter got more than his fill of space and time to practice drawing. By the time he turned 10, he declared that he was tired of drawing and wanted to focus on woodcarving as his primary art form. With the firmness of his decision, his father finally relented and bought his son the necessary tools for Peter to be a woodcarver’s apprentice. At 10 years old he began to apprentice for Ulrich Huber (1868-1949) in his hometown of Basel, and he continued to apprentice under Huber for 6 years. During this time, Peter was mainly expected to create roughouts for Huber’s sculptures – but at night he could study fine woodcarving from Swiss master carvers. Peter’s reflection from this time: “For years I had to wake half an hour earlier to build fires and sweep shavings and then carve and carve, and I’ve been carving ever since.
Following his apprenticeship, Peter spent a couple of years at the Industrial Arts School of Basel, then went on to complete his 2 years of mandated military service. After leaving the military, he was 21 years old and yielded to his wanderlust and love for the work of the famous English woodcarver, Grinling Gibbons, and moved to London. Gibbon’s work is very well-loved and he’s considered to be one of the best Western woodcarvers of all time. His work can still be seen in many of England’s cathedrals, castles, estates, and nobleman’s homes. While living in London Peter was thrilled that he could studyand sketch Gibbon’s carvings by visiting various cathedrals and homes around the city, and could often be found creating charcoal sketches that focused on the common themes of Gibbon’s pieces. Some of his most prized sketches were of Hampton Court, which had many high-relief pieces with naturalistic flair and no fancy cuts (similar to the Chippendale style). Gibbon’s frequent use of flowers, fruit, and foliage motifs served as potent inspiration for Peter’s future work in Texas.
After soaking up all of the inspiration London could offer him, Peter decided to move to Paris to enroll in formal art education at the Coquier-Roland School of Art. Throughout his schooling, he studied clay modeling and sculpting from live models, and ended up having much of his work displayed in the studio. This schooling would prove to be invaluable in providing a strong foundation for his sense of proportions, visualization, and ability to work quickly. While living in Paris he landed his first portrait commission for a Russian nobleman, though the payment didn’t come for months after!
We’ll dive into the next chapter of Peter Mansbendel’s story soon…
As for my own work and life over the past month, it’s been a busy one!
I’ve been making good progress on a couple of the projects I mentioned last month; the kubbestol and the commissioned Byzantine crowns.
For the kubbestol, I’ve been able to work on the back of the chair to begin carving in the relief foliage design.
As you may have noticed, I use a lot of acanthus foliage in my carvings. From the beginning of my exploration of carving, I’ve always loved and incorporated acanthus plants into my designs because of their beauty and uniqueness. The leaves are so textural and are often found in various kinds of European woodcarving, and can be found as far back as 500 BCE in Greecian art.
I’m also still in the process with the Byzantine crowns that were commissioned by a couple recently. Getting them perfectly lined up and set was tricky because of the unusual angles, but I found a method that ended up being successful. The next step is beginning to carve these beauties, make sure to check back next month to see the progression.
After taking a break from hiking in October it was really nice to get back to my hiking group throughout November! I was able to go on a handful of hikes but these 2 were particularly memorable.
First was the Black Mesa Otowi Peak trail on the Rio Grande. This is a 5.0 -mile out-and-back trail with 1100’ of elevation change. It is located north of Santa Fe, New Mexico just past the Las Capansas housing additions. Generally considered a moderately challenging route, it takes an average of 3 hours to complete. This is a popular trail for birding, hiking, and walking, but during this time of year crowds being to dwindle so it didn’t feel crowded. The trail is open year-round. When I went on November 3rd the temp was about 50 and it was lightly raining and the wind was blowing briskly on the peak. Good to be back hiking after a few weeks off!
On Nov 10th my hiking buddies Thad, Richard, and I headed up to hike near Ski Santa Fe. We started our hike at 10,200’ elevation then hiked Windsor-Ravens Ridge up to Deception Peak at 12,377’. It was 6 miles and 2,400’ of elevation change. The hike was almost entirely in snow which made it very difficult but we had a breathtaking view as a reward for our hard work. You could see all the way into Colorado with clear skies and sun. It was a chilly start at 28 degrees and around 35 on Deception peak. A real butt kicker of a hike!
We also had our first snow of the year here in Santa Fe ❅
Looking forward to catching up with you again in the new year! I hope this holiday season is full of rest, fun, and joy for you and your loved ones.
If you have questions about anything in this post, feel free to leave me a comment below.
If you read last month’s post or email you probably know that I participated in this year’s Santa Fe Studio Tours, and I can happily report that it went great! If you came to the studio tour it was great to see you. I was able to meet other artists and people from or visiting Santa Fe who love art, so I’m looking forward to future tours as well.
Because of the studio tour and work last month, I haven’t had as much time for hiking – but I have started two new woodcarving projects. Both of these projects are outside of the work I usually do, and I really enjoy trying new approaches and styles.
A couple in Dallas commissioned me to make two of these Byzantine wedding crowns. After learning about the interesting history behind the crowns and Stefana ceremony I began the process of planning and creating.
In Greek Orthodox Christian cultures, one of the most important and memorable aspects of weddings is a Byzantine Rite (ritual) called the Mystery of Crowning. In Greek Orthodox communities, these crowns are called the ‘Stefana.’
Following the betrothal ceremony, the Mystery of Crowning is performed on the newly married couple utilizing two Stefanas – one for each person. The use of these crowns as well as the ceremony were borrowed from Pagan traditions, then adapted for each culture’s traditions and beliefs.
During the Stefana ceremony, the couple join hands and continues holding hands for the rest of the wedding. The priest recites a prayer three times in front of the groom and then three times in front of the bride, and then changes directions – reciting the prayer three times again in front of the bride, and three times again in front of the groom. The priest will then place the wedding crowns on the couple’s heads, uniting them as husband and wife.
Lastly, the Koumbaros (the groom’s best man) exchanges the crowns three times – placing the groom’s crown on the bride’s head, and vice versa, three times.
To begin the process, I sketched out the design of both crowns to review with the clients and finalize details. As you can see below, I use grid paper to ensure proper spacing and sizing.
Next, I had six pieces of mahogany cut to size for each crown and set them up to check details before attaching them together. After confirming everything was the right size and cut, I taped all the pieces together to see what the finished crown would look like.
This is as far as I’ve gotten in the process so far, but I’ll continue to update my progress in future posts. If you have questions about this project feel free to let me know in a comment at the bottom of this post!
The other main project I’ve been working on is this piece of a woman holding a bouquet of flowers. This approach and style are far from my usual work but I’ve been enjoying working on a woodcarving piece that’s essentially a sculptural portrait.
I started by carving the body and face, and kept the flowers she’s holding and at her feet separate initially for ease of carving. After I put some detail into the top set of flowers I attached them so I could start working on the hands and arms as well.
Look for updates on this project too in next month’s post!
Because October was a busy month with the Santa Fe Artist Studio Tour and work I didn’t have a chance to go on any hikes. But we have been experiencing some gorgeous Fall weather and sunsets here in Santa Fe so I wanted to share some photos from myself and friends of mine from the past month:
Looking forward to having more time in November for woodcarving and clay projects, and I’ll be sure to update you about those and the projects mentioned in this post as well.
And if you haven’t already, make sure to sign up for my newsletter! By joining you’ll have first access to new posts, information about commission availability, and more behind-the-scenes photos and info.
I hope November treats you well, see you here next month!
I hope you’re enjoying this early Fall weather, it’s been gorgeous here in Santa Fe. If you missed my first blog post last month you can click here to read it – in this post, I give an overview of my artistic journey thus far.
First and foremost I wanted to invite you to visit my home studio through the Santa Fe Studio Tours on October 8th and 9th, and the following weekend of October 15th and 16th. During both weekends you can visit my studio as well as many other talented Santa Fe artists’ studios from 10am to 5pm.
This year I’ll be Studio 62, and I’m looking forward to getting to talk to some of you about the work I do and answer any questions you may have! You can find information on my studio here. Also here is the full list of artists participating in the studio tour so you can plan your route. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to leave me a comment at the bottom of this post or shoot me an email – I’m happy to answer any questions.
There’s also a gallery preview October 7th-9th, and you can find more information about that here. I’ll be at the opening meet-the-artists reception and hope to see you there!
Before I moved to Santa Fe a few years ago, I was a part of artist studio tours for 14 years in Texas and always really enjoyed them. I’m excited to see what the experience is like here in Santa Fe.
During the last few weeks I’ve been working on a variety of projects for clients and myself. Most of my projects are woodcarvings right now so I’ve been enjoying focusing on that medium, with one clay sculptural piece too.
As I mentioned in last month’s post I’m currently working on a kubbestol (wooden log chair) for my son, I haven’t worked on one of these in years before this project.
Below is the start of the design process for the kubbestol. I took a large roll of grid velum paper and cut out the shape of the back of the kubbestol. I laid out my design, then folded the grid paper in half and flipped it over the trace the design I developed from the other side – giving me a mirror image. After the design is completed I trace it onto the wood and emphasize highlights and shadows.
I’ve also been working on a commission from a client – a memorial relief of a young girl named Autumn Wilde, who passed away in 2019. When I first saw the photos of Autumn, they were very moving and I could feel the love and loss of this special child. It was a blessing to use my talent to create this sculpture for them. I made several copies of the sculpture for family members and was told they all loved the portrait.
The relief sculpture is approximately 11.5x15x1/2” that was originally executed in plasticine clay and cast in hydrocal plaster, with oil paints used for the patina.
Lastly, I’ve also been working on these panels utilizing chip carving and other techniques.
The panels are 18”x28”x1.25” in alder wood. Alder is a very soft wood which makes it a great choice for projects like this. They’re designed as a South West style architectural piece.
Along with working on these pieces during the last few weeks I’ve also been attending my weekly sculpting group as well as teaching. I really enjoy both of these weekly gatherings because it gives me a chance to talk to other artists about our current projects, have focused work time, and bounce ideas off of one another.
I’ll continue updating you on these and upcoming projects in next month’s post, make sure you’re on the Art by Doug Oliver email list to be the first to get notified when new blog posts are up.
In addition to my artistic projects, I’ve also been on some really great hikes this month in and around Santa Fe!
September 1st: I enjoyed my birthday by hiking the Atalaya Mountain Trail here in Santa Fe with my men’s hiking group. It’s a good strenuous hike at ~7 miles and 2000′ of elevation change and a peak at 10,407′. I’ve probably done it 6 times since moving here and it’s been challenging every time.
September 8th: it was my day to lead the hiking group, so I chose the Nambe Lake Trail which starts at the Santa Fe ski area (10,200’). This is one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve tried here in Northern New Mexico. The trail is 6.7 miles out and back and you gain over 2000’ of elevation and the lake is at 11,411’. It is a very difficult hike, but has a beautiful payoff!
September 15th: Hiked up at Valles Caldera National Preserve today. (near Los Alamos-about 40 miles from Santa Fe) We hiked the Rito de Los Indios trail which was a moderately challenging hike. This is an 8.0 mile out and back trail in a beautiful backcountry setting which started at 8,455’ elevation and topped out at 9,364’ for an 886 ft elevation gain. We heard elk bugling and came across dendroglyphs carvings done by sheepherders in the early and mid-1900s. It started out foggy this morning but soon warmed up and we had partly sunny weather.
Welcome to the first of many posts on the Art by Doug Oliver blog! I am so excited as I am writing this first post, blogging is such an amazing way to share my thoughts, ideas, and snippets of my work and life with you. I feel that there cannot be a better way to genuinely express myself to the fullest.
If you’re new here, I’m glad you’ve joined us. My name is Doug Oliver and I’m a Fine Woodcarver and Sculptor who lives and works in Santa Fe, NM. I have a deep love and respect for traditional and representational (realistic) art in most forms. Whether that is design, sculpting, carving, art, architecture, figurative, ornamentation, or history it all melds into one in my mind and soul. I firmly believe that there is always more to learn in the world of art and I’m on a lifelong journey to continue expanding my expertise, knowledge, and understanding.
My artistic process started early in life, I started drawing at a young age and always loved art and have enjoyed the creative process. I was inspired by my mother, Marilyn, who was a talented amateur painter. She took me to classes with her when I was younger and I took a few art classes in high school but thought I needed to pursue a more safe path since I wanted a family. For many years I had the urge to tap into my creativity again, and then one day in my early 30s, a family friend introduced me to woodcarving and it felt like the whole world of art and creativity opened back up to me.
After being introduced to woodcarving I was fortunate to find and study under a Bavarian master wood and stone carver, Ludwig Kienniger, for many years. I now have over 27 years of experience and am well versed in many classical and contemporary styles, and enjoy carving in many types of hardwoods. I also enjoy sculpting in clay (primarily figurative) as it allows for more freedom of expression than wood or other hard materials. Throughout these 27 years of learning, I have explored a wide variety of techniques, approaches, styles, and mediums. All of this has culminated in creating Art by Doug Oliver as a way to share my art with others, connect with fellow artists, and take commissions for those who’d like my art in their home, workplace, religious space, etc.
In December of 2019, I changed my life and moved away from the Dallas area (a place I called home for decades) and moved to Santa Fe where I did not know a single soul. I came here to pursue my passion for art and to live and work in this inspiring environment. I have not looked back since making this big life change. Getting the opportunity to live in such a beautiful, inspiring environment as well as being able to connect to the very well-established Santa Fe art world has been incredibly beneficial to my art and my life as a whole.
If you’d like to keep up with my work, the best way to do so is by joining the Art by Doug Oliver email list. On the 1st of every month, I’ll be sending out an email to this community to catch up on what projects I’ve been working on in the past month, information about commissions and availability, new techniques or mediums I’m experimenting with, as well as little snippets of my life as a Santa Fe artist. In each of these emails, I’ll provide a link to the monthly blog post as well which will have more in-depth & detailed information, photos of my work and process, and a full overview of what’s been going on in my work and life. You can also visit the Art by Doug Oliver website at any time to read this or past blog posts!
My hope is over the coming months I’ll be sharing blog topics that will inspire, educate, and enlighten you. These posts won’t only contain information about carving, sculpting, and art – but many other topics that continue to fascinate me like travel, museums, geology, and the natural world. I plan to showcase how I start a project and then how I proceed through the different stages until completion. I’ll also show you and discuss how I choose tools and types of wood for projects. This way I can bring you along from the initial drawing to the completed sculptures.
I also will cover topics such as tools, woods, clays, benches, armatures, and many of the things that I use to create my art. I also plan to showcase some artists that inspire me (past and present). I hope that you will follow the journey and process with me, and I would also love to hear from you if you have questions, topic ideas for posts, or anything else you’re curious about. Thank you for being here, I appreciate you and your support for my artistic journey!