A few years ago, my wife and I visited Italy. We stayed near Assisi in an old farmhouse that was turned into four apartments. It was on the top of a hill in the middle of a working olive grove. It was wonderful week. It was there that I fell in love with olive trees and olive wood. Olive trees are usually all gnarled and twisted. Some people would say they are ugly, but I appreciate their rugged diversity. They have personality.
We were there right after the spring tree pruning and there were lots of one foot long branch pieces in a pile to be used for fire wood. I picked out a nice small log, 2” in diameter, wrapped it in a hand towel and put it in my suitcase. Later I wondered whether it would cause a problem going through the baggage X-ray at the airport, since it might look like a stick of dynamite, but it got through all right. I used the piece of olive wood to carve a spoon. (see photo) Not a work of art, but a nice memento of the trip. Olive wood is great to work with, easy to carve and cut, and the grain and color of the wood is warm and earthy.
Assisi, of course, is the home of Saint Francis, a very spiritual man and a lover of nature. The trip to Assisi was part vacation and part spiritual journey for me. Even though a few years have passed, I can still feel the spiritual awakening I experienced there. All my senses were filled with God.
This blog is about wood and art, and today I am talking about olive wood and St. Francis, so I can’t help but mention the most beautiful carved olive wood statue of St. Francis that I saw in Assisi. The humorous irony, however, is that this wonderful life-size statue was not in the basilica or in the garden, but rather in the foyer of the underground restroom facility for tourists. (see photo) Go figure.