Learn how to carve this classic detail – follow a few rules, and it’s simple.
By Mary May
The beauty and elegance of the acanthus leaf has inspired artists, architects and craftsmen for centuries. Among furniture makers, carving this classic detail is a rite of passage, much like making your first hand-cut dovetails. If you are interested in carving, the acanthus leaf should certainly be in your repertoire.
The acanthus plant, also known by the common name of “Bear’s Breeches,” is native to the Mediterranean. It has thick, spiny leaves with serrated edges and produces large 2′- to 3′-long spikes of white or purple flowers. The word acanthus comes from the Greek word ake, meaning a point or thorn, and anthos, meaning flower. The acanthus plant most resembles the dandelion, thistle and artichoke plants.
The acanthus first appears in the decorative and architectural arts of Greece around the 5th century B.C. The most familiar historical use for the acanthus on a curved or turned surface is on the capitals of Corinthian columns.
At first, the designs based on the acanthus leaf were accurately portrayed and extremely lifelike. As this motif grew popular, it became more stylized and has now evolved into an imaginary leaf of many uses. The acanthus design can be seen in everything from embroidery to architectural designs and furniture details.
Web site: Visit Mary May’s web site to see more of her work, and find out when and where she’s teaching.
Video: Watch as Mary May shows you how to sharpen one of the essential tools for woodcarving – the V-chisel.
In Our Store: “How to Carve an Acanthus Leaf on a Cabriole Leg and on a Turned Post,” DVD from Mary May.
Online Learning: Mary May has just launched an online video school to teach carving; find out more. Read more