PO Box 74527
My Exploration of Traditional
I fell in love with Hungarian woodcarving while traveling through
Hungary from 1995 to 1999. Initially, I found two things that were
particularly inspirational – the first was in the city of Miskolc.
Hungarian veterans who fought along the Don River during the Second
World War had recently erected a traditional Hungarian totem (or
kopjafa as they are known in Hungarian) to commemorate their fallen
comrades. The mystical designs, carved into the heavy timber, were
patiently explained to me with emotion-filled reminiscences and animated
gestures. Woodcarving is rather ubiquitous in that country, however, a
later visit to a small village cemetery in Southeastern Hungary revealed
similar decorative wooden grave markers that continued to intrigue and
In 1999, while planning the Vancouver Hungarian Millennium Festival, I
met with local Hungarian master woodcarver Lázsló Józsa.
His passion and skill, coupled with his eagerness to
teach his craft, encouraged me to expand my artistic repertoire to
include woodcarving. I began researching Hungarian carving and quickly
found it difficult to access the needed information - especially in
English. I didn’t give up, and with the help of some patient Hungarian
friends, I managed to acquire a good deal of reference material.
First, I learned basic chip-carving techniques, using a knife on
basswood, and created a Hungarian decorative paddle. Next, I was
introduced to what is known as a “parting tool” - a gouge with a
V-shaped blade. I continued studying elements of Hungarian motifs, and
chose yellow pine as my next “canvas.” In traditional Hungarian folk
carving, symmetry is important - a well drawn design is also essential.
The specialized tools I became acquainted with
included the Japanese dozuki saw (which cuts only on the
backstroke), the flush saw, assorted chisels and gouges, ceramic
sharpening stones, and the unusual shot-filled rubber mallet.
After several weeks of working on my own, I joined Józsa at his studio.
There I started work on a five foot kopjafa. The wood stock was
a 5 inch square, by 5 foot long piece of ponderosa pine, slightly
tapered towards the top. We first discussed the basic elements of the
traditional kopjafa: the sphere, the tulip, the “X,” the “plates”
(which act as dividers) and their variations.
I began by drawing these motifs on all four sides of the blank
pine. Traditionally, the bottom third of the piece is usually left
plain, however, sometimes an inscription or other decorative designs are
I found woodcarving to be quite mesmerizing. Working in harmony
with the wood grain, the aroma of freshly cut pine, the flying chips
that blanket the ground – were new artistic experiences for me. This
medium brought me intimately closer to a rich and ancient tradition, and
as an artist used to painting on canvas, it allowed me to express myself
in new dimensions.