Carving the Acanthus Leaf
By Mary May
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Learning to carve the acanthus leaf is – for carvers – like a pianist learning a Chopin étude, a young oil painter studying the genius of Rembrandt or an aspiring furniture maker learning to cut dovetails by hand.
For carvers, especially those who focus on Classical Western ornament, there comes a time they will inevitably encounter the acanthus leaf, learn it, master it and finally incorporate it into their own designs.
“Carving the Acanthus Leaf” by Mary May is a deep exploration into this iconic leaf, which has been a cornerstone of Western ornamentation for thousands of years. May, a professional carver and instructor, starts her book at the beginning. She covers carving tools and sharpening with the efficiency of someone who has taught for years. Then she plunges the reader directly into the work.
It begins with a simple leaf that requires just a few tools. The book then progresses through 13 variations of leaves up to the highly ornate Renaissance and Rococo forms. Each lesson builds on the earlier ones as the complexity slowly increases.
One remarkable aspect of the book is how May has structured each chapter. Each chapter begins with a short discussion of how this particular leaf appears in architecture or the decorative arts, with photos May has taken from her travels around the world. Then you learn how to draw the leaf from scratch. Though you are provided with a full-size or scaled drawing of each leaf, May insists that drawing the leaf makes it easier to carve it. Each step of the drawing process is illustrated in detail.
As May explains how to carve the leaf, she augments each step with multiple photos and illustrations that show where and how each tool should move through the work. The result is that each leaf can have as many as 100 photos and illustrations of each step of the carving process.
In addition to the intense instruction, May also provides a short essay between every chapter that illustrates her journey from a young pumpkin carver to the world-renowned carver she is today. The overall effect is like apprenticing with a master carver, with both the demanding instruction and the personal experiences that make woodworking such a rich craft.
“Carving the Acanthus Leaf” is manufactured to survive many hours of use in the shop. The heavy paper is both glued and sewn so the book will lie flat on your benchtop without the pages coming loose. The pages are protected by cloth-covered hardboards and a tear-resistant dust jacket to protect its contents. This is a permanent book – produced and printed entirely in the United States.