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All it took for me this past week to get hooked on acanthus carving was to learn it through the instruction of Norwegian carver Hans Sandom. Of the ten students at the Milan Village Arts School (MVAS), I was one of two beginners to acanthus carving.  It was humbling to be around all the talent.   It was also great to see progress on their projects and appreciate their commitment to master this form of carving.  It’s contagious I think.  Kinda like finding old woodworking tools, you want to keep searching for them.
On day one you have to learn the basics and variations of carving acanthus leaves. So after carving practice leaves for about two days, I started on a bread board carving project that looks deceptively simple until you start carving it. You quickly realize how much goes into carving the elements of the acanthus design. During the last day and a half I worked on a small shelf project. I completed half of the carving so I could complete the project at home.






Of all the things to bring, I left my larger V tool at home. If you carve acanthus then you know that the V tool is critically important in helping to define acanthus carving as you work into greater relief. Fortunately for me, Hans provided a V tool for me to use.  Some of the virtues of acanthus carving is that it comes with the challenge of maintaining your concentration, and taking the necessary time to cut smooth continuous bevels on the leaves. It takes patience, and, then when you get into it, you can loose track of time which is a good thing. It offers a needed respite from what many have as occupational stress.  Since I have wanted to take a class in acanthus since 1997, this has been a real treat for me.

You might ask why did I opt to learn acanthus at MVAS?  Aren’t there some other carvers that you’d think of right away?  Well, MVAS is a lesser known jewel in southwestern Minnesota that offers classes in Scandinavian folk arts.  I recommend that you check out those opportunities.  For one thing, Hans Sandom and Bob Yorburg are among the few carvers to recently publish anything on acanthus wood carving.  Get their book Acanthus Carving and Design and you’ll see that not all acanthus is the same. It isn’t all the same even in Norway or Scandinavia.  Having the last name Paulson (it was spelled different ways over the generations), has inspired me to also celebrate some aspects of my Scandinavian heritage.  I have ancestors on my dad’s side that can be traced back to the New Sweden Colonial settlement in Delaware around the 1600’s.

Another great school of Scandinavian folk arts is at the Vesterheim National Norwegian-American Museum and Heritage Center in Decorah, IA.  I have been to Vesterheim and have become a member of the museum, but this was my first time to MVAS. I look forward to pursuing this style of carving with all it challenges including the art of painting those carvings in the Scandinavian tradition.  Like putting on the veins of the leaf, one has to be careful not to ruin the whole piece by rushing the completion. Careful and deliberate effort pays off in accenting and not detracting from the beauty of the piece.