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Wood is probably one of the earliest materials used for sculpting. Wood is a material that is relatively soft compared to stone but can hold its form much better than sand and dirt. A stick and a sharp stone would be all the earliest artists need to start carving wood into new and interesting art forms.
Wood Used in Sculpture
The type of wood chosen for a sculpture helps to determine the nature of the sculpture. To begin with, the natural colour of the wood usually gives the final piece its colour. While wood is painted all of the time, most fine artists who work in wood choose to allow the natural texture of the wood to come through in the final work. Just about any wood can be used for sculpture, but the most popular are oak, mahogany, cedar, teak, and pine. These woods can be grouped into softwoods and hardwoods, with softwoods usually being used by beginners or sculptors who don’t plan on showing their work outdoors. Hardwoods are the way to go for long-lasting pieces that can stand indoors or outdoors, though all wood sculptures will rot and fall apart if left outside long enough.
Important Wood Sculptors
One of the most influential wood sculptors to ever live was Grinling Gibbons. He lived from 1648 and 1721 and helped to decorate the homes of British royalty. To this day you can still see his work in places like Windsor Castle, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Trinity College. Centuries later the British artist Barbara Hepworth would help to bring woodworking into the modern era by forsaking both representationalism and ornate decorative motifs to create stark wooden creations that would help propel her to the top of the art world.
Famous Wood Sculptures
While many of the earliest wooden sculptors were lost to time, we still have at least one piece of wooden artwork that date back over eleven thousand years ago. The “Shigir Idol” was found in a peat bog in the middle of the Ural Mountains in Russia. This sculpture is an ornately decorated figure with a rounded head and a flat body that is covered in patterns. A famous sculpture from the modern era is “Reclining Figure” by Henry Moore. This sculpture is one of a series of figurative works done by the artist depicting reclining feminine forms. The work represents a modernist rejection of strict depictions of the human form, echoing back to ancient works like the Shigir Idol.