Last week, Mary May came to Portland to teach several classes at the Guild of Oregon Woodworkers and she was also the featured speaker at our monthly meeting. I had seen her on The Woodwright's Shop, here and here, but this was the first time I had seen her in person in a teaching setting. She spoke for over an hour to an extremely attentive audience. Her presentation was composed of three roughly equal parts. The first was a photographic portfolio of her work, impressive for its quality and breadth, the second, a description of her approach to sharpening and the third a mini-lesson in carving a linen fold.
A major reason I have never attempted carving is a lack of confidence that I could sharpen the tools. I won't say that she made it look easy but I did come away thinking that it is something I could learn to do. She went through sharpening a gouge and a V-tool in a step by step manner with insights about technique that are invaluable and that I would not have been able to understand without watching her in action. I was very interested that she uses diamond stones and honing compound, just as I do for sharpening my woodworking tools, though her 8000 grit stone is incredibly fine, so fine I couldn't feel the grit on it.
The linen fold mini-lesson was also a real eye-opener for me. The effective creation of a 3-d impression from a nearly 2-d carving depends on an understanding of how our eyes work and I could definitely she what she was talking about. I could never understand this without watching someone with her skill actually do it as she described the techniques.
I regret very much that I was unable to take any of her classes due to a scheduling conflict, but I highly recommend her classes and videos to you. She is a natural and highly skilled woodworking educator.
This week I sent her an email asking for her advice on something I want to do and her response was very helpful. Let me explain. I have made three sets of cabriole legs that came out fairly well, including shaping the feet by hand. As I was completing a tea table, my Golden Lab Buffy was standing in my field of vision behind it and I did a double-take. The resemblance between her front legs and the cabriole legs was uncanny. Since then I have wanted to make a set of cabriole legs with hair and feet that resemble Buffy's. This doubtless seems crazy to you but I really want to do it. I have repeatedly asked carvers for advice but have only gotten blank stares. Mary May responded that she liked the idea, gave me a general idea of how to create the hair (make S-shaped cuts to give a flowing appearance) and told me to my great surprise that there is a traditional form called the "hairy paw" foot, also sometimes called a "dog's foot"! When I searched for it, I found that it predates but is associated with the Chippendale style. Mine will not be nearly so formal or ornate obviously, but it is really fun to be aware of this historical connection. Thanks to Mary May, I am really motivated to attempt this now.