Minnesota Arts: The Woodcarved Realistic People and Animals of Herman Swenson
My father, born in 1924, passed away in 2012. He was a talented man who worked with wood, and worked on cars. He was in the navy during World War II, and was serving when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
He had grown up on a farm in the Moose Lake area and had learned to maintain a farm environment. He was also a thinker and an inventor and spent many hours thinking about the way things went together and how to improve them.
He started wood carving in the 1960's. There was a class on wood carving and he learned the basics on how to carve a simple object like a cat.
Herman Swenson was creative enough to think about a subject, grab a pocket knife and just start carving. Many of the carvings were of himself, doing work around the yard. Strong men wielding axes. Strong men in nice clothes. Many of the carvings he did, were probably a self likeness since the body style was very similar to my fathers body style. Tall, thin, broad shouldered, athletic.
When we lived in Grand Marais; he did a carving of my sister playing her guitar. Some people draw. My father carved. The carving was of a long haired blond girl playing a six string guitar.
We had bears in our yard and he did a carving of a man with a berry bucket and a bear. Both were running away from each other. Both have scared looks on their faces.
His Style Was Realistic
I have a carving of a man in hunting clothes, kneeling on the ground next to a deer. I had wanted a carving and since my husband liked to deer hunt, he carved a carving of a man tying a rope to a deer that he shot.
My mother painted the man with a hunting red sweatshirt and the deer was brown She even painted the hooves
He liked to carve old men just sitting around waiting. Many of his smaller carvings were of men that were sitting around eating cookies and drinking coffee. Why? I think it's because he sat around eating cookies and drinking coffee. The characters wear hats. My father wore hats.
He sat with his leg crossed over his knee. The carvings show the person doing that.
There are carvings of men with binoculars wearing a jacket. There are men wearing shop clothes and scratching their heads. There are men carrying a rifle. The carvings are true to action. The man with the ax has a log that he is working on, complete with bark and a notched out spot for the ax.
There is a man sitting at a table, praying.
My mother requested an elf for her stairwell. When you walked in our house, there was a stairwell going up in front of you. She wanted an elf to sit on the bottom of the railing so you'd see it when you came into the house.
He carved this on his lunch hour when he worked at a college. It took him 45 minutes to whittle it out. He did it on his lunch hour. A coworker watched him do it.
The legs were realistic.
Head and Shoulders
The head and shoulders were also realistic. I'm assuming he stood and looked at himself in a mirror to get the jist of the carving.
Realistic poses. Hands at sides.
See the Detail?
This is a close up of the elves face. Once again, a reminder. He carved this in 45 minutes from a 4 x 4 block of wood.
Again, it must be his face because he includes his own smirk.
His First Project
This is the cat that he carved in his carving class in the late 1960's.
A Typical Old Man
I think that the old men of the day and age he was from, probably wore bib overalls. This is a classic example of such.
The more you look at this carving, the more details appear. It's incredible the amount of detail he put into his carvings.
My mother was the person who painted all his carvings. Give her credit for the details in painting them.
Again, this is a typical pose that my father would do. Sitting, legs crossed, eating a doughnut with a cup of coffee.
Another Old Guy
This looks like the same carving, but, it's not. This guy is just sitting there with his hands folded. The other guy has a cup of coffee and food.
Another Old Guy
Sitting around and listening.
Standing and Thinking
Note the rolled up sleeves. I think hes taking a break. Or, contemplating how he's going to cut this chunk. Or, perhaps he's planning on sitting on it.
Note the look on his face. Perhaps he was thinking and someone asked him a question. Or perhaps he's angry. Note the fist.
I think this one is of my father's father. As I look at the clothing, and the hat, I see the clothing my grandfather used to wear.
See How Small This Is
It's so small I can just hold it in my hand.
The detail and the size. Just amazing.
I asked my father where he obtained the wood he used and what type of wood it was. He replied that soft pine was the answer.
Well. A long time ago, we lived next to a lumber mill in Grand Marais. There was a pile of 'cut offs' that were just laying about and dad was invited to help himself to whatever he wished to use.
There was quite a bit of soft pine and it worked quite well he said.