WEST AUSTRALIAN GUILD OF WOODCARVERS - WANDI
In March 2019 I made a family visit to Western Australia and during that six week period attended the Monday morning workshop sessions of the Wandi branch of The West Australia Guild of Woodcarvers. I was made very welcome by this friendly group who meet at the Wandi Community Centre thirty minutes east of Perth. The group currently has thirty members which is reduction on last year and so the committee are actively looking for ways to attract new members. The majority of the membership are in their later years although it was good to meet the three young adult grandchildren of founding member Bob Svendsen attending workshops and demonstrating considerable skill.
The club have their own spacious workshops in a timber building that once served as a primary school and was moved to the Wandi site in 2004. The well-equipped double classroom space, divided by a folding partion, has one room equipped with bandsaws, power sanders and work benches. The other room serves as a quieter space where hand held carving is done at standard tables and chairs. There is a large store room housing an extensive woodcarving reference library plus a store of wood and club tools.
This equipment has been largely funded through annual grants from the Kwinana Community Council with the group fund raising the remainder of the costs. 2018’s grant was for timber and vices from which solid work benches were constructed by members of the group.
The Wandi Community Centre is on reserve land owned by the council, or shire as it is known locally, and is located in a rural area on the fringes the town of Kwinana, close to the coast. The site, which also includes a meeting hall with adjoining workshop superbly equipped for the woodturning group, plus a separate preschool block, is administered by the Wandi Progressive Association. This body sets the modest rents for the many interest groups that use the site and works very successfully to promote and develop the community facilities.
The individual woodcarvers pay an annual subscription of £20 which covers insurance and then an additional £1.50 per session attended that includes the rental charge and tea and biscuits. The rent is calculated on pro rata basis, that is on the number of people who turn up to a particular meeting.
New members joining the group begin by learning to carve using a knife to whittle a small piece of pre shaped lime which enables them to learn about wood grain and discover what can be achieved with the blade of a knife. During the induction period beginners are given one to one sessions on blade and gouge sharpening as they progress. But despite this training, on going sharpening remains a problem, just as it does amongst many of our BWA members. Another common problem is that of sanding. As I mentioned earlier, one workshop is equipped with powered sanders which is a mixed blessing as I observed wood shaping by sander rather than chisel. Again, a problem I find with my group in Shropshire where carvers move on to the sanding stage far to early much to the detriment of the crispness and detail of their carving.
In an attempt to advance the woodcarving skills of the Wandi group, chairman Ray with the assistance of instructors Ron and Terry, has introduced additional workshop sessions on alternate Saturdays to offer skills development through carving projects that challenge members by taking them out of their comfort zone. So far nine members have taken up this opportunity to enhance their carving technique. The group all undertake the same project learning from the instructors and each other as they progress with the carving.
Ray’s committee also organise workshops run by professional carvers which have included Peter Benson, Ian Norbury, Susan Wraight (famed for her netsuke) and Silvio Apponyi (stone and wood sculptor). The funding for these visits has been assisted by Kwinana Community Grants.
In terms of wood, lime and jelutong are commonly used, but of course Western Australian timbers offer a wide variety that are exotic and beautiful in colour and grain They include banksias, acacias, sandalwood, jarrah and sheoaks, all of which are extremely dense so carvers really learn the value of sharp tools. My favourite wood, huon pine, comes from Tasmania. It has a lovely golden colouring with very close grain and carves like butter.
The main means for promoting interest in woodcarving is through the annual Perth Wood Show - held in August or September. Here the Guild exhibits members' carvings, judges its annual carving competition and demonstrates carving to the public. Interested visitors are invited to free beginner sessions either at Wandi or the Perth Trinity Church School for Seniors. Two of the Wandi carvers instruct at the latter venue providing classes at two levels, beginners and advanced. Due to the lack of workshop facilities and tools at the school much of the carving in these sessions is done with knives.
I spent an intriguing morning with Percy, one of the Trinity instructors, improving my knife carving skills. Percy maintains that the beginner needs to focus on controlling the knife, exploring what it can achieve and mastering how to keep the blade sharp. These days Percy concentrates on whittling natural sculptures from pieces of random twigs and burrs that he discovers lying on the ground. He then creates stories to accompany these pieces, for example the ‘creature’ in the accompanying photo could be a microscopic flea, or even some form of alien being.
The Wandi group’s outreach programme also includes involvement in ‘Have a go’ events in local community centres and shopping malls. They also visit care homes for the old and let them loose with knives and shaped wooden blanks. I was impressed with the financial support the group provided to a Solomon Islander to complete her teaching qualification. Money is being raised by the selling of Solomon Islanders carvings in Perth and surrounding area and through other fund raising events.
The West Australian Guild of Carvers are attempting to bring together the woodcarvers of this huge state with its widely dispersed population, not an easy task and currently it would appear that the Perth/Kwinana set up are the only viable groups. Ray and his team work hard to promote woodcarving in their area and I am looking forward to joining them again on subsequent visits. I will be armed with back copies of the BWA Gazette, a publication that they very much enjoy.