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Wonders of wood carving

Published: 
Monday, February 22, 2016
Tobago Peeps
Chicken? Seahorse? Pelican?

Wooden carvings (often of human faces and figures, steel pans and local flora and fauna) are a common sight in Tobago. 

Sold largely at roadsides, on beaches or in small stalls in populated areas, these creations are so plentiful that it is easy for the average person to take them for granted and underestimate the skill and passion required to produce them. Recently, while cleaning and sorting through boxes, I came across a wood carving set given to me by my father some time last year. 

Immediately a strong desire to begin carving sparked in me. Previous attempts were in childhood. A small electric guitar, of which I was very proud, was the most memorable result of my wood carving efforts.

On Google and YouTube I discovered various articles and videos on carving and the art of whittling—the latter involving use of a small, sharp knife to gradually shave and cut figures from raw wood. I envisioned myself sitting outdoors in quiet moments, at one with nature, “whittling” away.

Later that morning on the beach I picked up two interesting-looking pieces of driftwood. The one that resembled a bird was the one that I started whittling as soon as I got home. I do not own a whittling knife and, unable to find one in hardwares (where the word “whittling” was unknown to those I asked), I used my Swiss Army knife.  

Later that evening, I sat with friends having drinks and eats. Looking up at the walls of the venue I noticed wood carvings created by Collins Andrews-Toussaint of One Love Arts (Booth No 1) in Store Bay. 

I had seen these carvings many times before, but that night I viewed them through new eyes. I noticed the depth of detail—the scaly appearance of a mermaid’s tail, the smooth curve of a body, the texture of hair, the “swish” of wood carved to look like fabric—and I wondered: “How did he do that?”

Through carving and whittling, one can speak a new language, pulling stories out of grain and returning life to what now seems “dead” (wood) but was once living (a tree). As woodwork is one of my father’s hobbies, I grew up with this awareness, but did not ever fully put it into practice myself.

Every Friday evening when I teach yoga in the Kariwak ajoupa, a majestic, detailed wood sculpture of the Egyptian Goddess Hathor stands behind me. She is the creation of Omesh Cain, Tobago-born, Germany-based sculptor and artist. I know that the next time I see Hathor, I will examine her form and features with curious “how-did-he-do-that?” eyes.

Hungry to understand more about the art form, I visited Booth No 1 in Store Bay. Lerelynne Andrews-Toussaint (wife of Collins) greeted me with a hug and outside of their One Love Arts booth. Inside, Collins sat carving a piece of cedar. 

Hearing of my interest in learning to carve, he invited me in and demonstrated some basic cuts with the heavy-duty X-Acto blade he uses a lot in his work. It is fascinating that such a simple tool can be used to create intricate wooden wonders. I happened to have the beginnings of my whittled driftwood bird with me. 

In my eyes, it was a chicken...to Lerelynne, a seahorse..to Collins, a pelican. In one piece of wood, the possibilities are endless. One Love Arts will be offering wood-carving and jewelry-making workshops later this year.

Please contact Collins and Lerelynne at 794-5818 for more information.

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