My wife noticed a book listed on my Amazon wish list and got it for me for Christmas. It is entitled: “Sacred Woods – The Contemporary Lithuanian Woodcarving Revival”. The book is a catalog of the exhibit held at the University of Wisconsin in 1998 with great photos of Lithuanian wood sculpture. These are works of contemporary sculptors that perpetuate the long history of Lithuanian wood carving. (See the photos in this posting.)
The introduction to the book by Ruta Saliklis gave me great insight into the Lithuanians’ close personal affinity to wood and wood sculpture throughout their history. If you have been reading my blog, you know that this personal harmony with wood, and the spiritual nature of trees, is a recurring theme. Here is an excerpt from the Introduction of the book:
“Vast Forests once covered Lithuania. Evidence of the importance of woods in Lithuanian culture can be found in folklore, religion and mythology. The Lithuanian language itself shows the importance by the numerous words for woods, depending on the type of trees within them. Lithuanians see wood not merely as an organism, but as a vibrant living entity. Thus traditionally a tree can only be chopped down during the dormancy of winter. In pre-Christian times certain groves of trees were considered sacred and no one (not even the King) would dare cut a tree from such a grove, or even take wood from the ground.”
The entire subject of Lithuanian wood sculpture and folk art is very interesting for a number of reasons. First, the Lithuanians were the last of the Europeans to be Christianized. This happened in the late 14th century. The close connection to their pagan past, as well as the conversion of pagan symbols to Christian ones, is reflected in their wooden sculpture. Also, they have been many political changes over the past few centuries. A great deal of their wooden sculpture is an expression of their resentment to occupation and oppression by other nations. Much of this is done in a coded message of symbols included in the carved object. The book goes into wonderful detail about the history of Lithuanian wood folk sculpture; more than I can talk about here.
Most northern European cultures (German, Polish, Danish, etc.) were big on wood carving, but it seems that the Lithuanians had them all beat. I get the feeling that every Lithuanian baby is given a set of carving gouges along with a teething ring.
Most of the sculpted wood carvings shown in the book are now on display at the Lithuanian Museum of Art in Lemont, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. I would enjoy going there someday to experience this art in person.
Are you familiar with Lithuanian wood carvings and their significance? If not, you might enjoy doing some research on Google. Tell me what you think.