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Wednesday, 11 July 2012

MASTER WOODCARVER | Ornamental Woodcarver | Patrick Damiaens

Master Craftsman  
Beautiful and highly ornamented Liège-style furniture is still being carved today, thanks to the specialist skills of master Woodcarver Patrick Damiaens.

by Denzil Walton

Patrick Damiaens Ornamental woodcarver
 In the 17th century the Belgian town of Liège became highly prosperous due to its coal mining, metal processing and glass refining industries. It evolved into a fashionable residence for princes, aristocracy and wealthy merchants who had money to spend on lavish, expensive carved furniture. 
The best craftsmen from the surrounding region were invited to work in Liège. The city soon became famous for its Liège-style furniture. It is characterized by beautifully and delicately carved ornaments, usually with a thickness of only 5 mm. 400 years on, Liège-style furniture is still being created and carved to the highest levels of quality. 

From his workshop in Maaseik, Belgium, Patrick Damiaens is a reassuring reminder that even in these days of mass-manufactured furniture, there is still a demand for the traditional skills of a master artisan. 
Damiaens (46) is the only full-time ornamental wood carver in Flanders – the Dutch-speaking half of Belgium – a unique position of which he is immensely proud. “There are a few part-timers and hobbyists in Flanders, but no-one who earns his living doing what I do,” he says.

Carved panelling
What he does is certainly impressive. He works in close cooperation with four colleagues: a staircase-maker, two cabinet-makers and a furniture restorer. 

Between them they turn planks of rough French oak into the most stunningly attractive cupboards, chests of drawers, wardrobes, door frames, staircases, stereo cabinets and decorative panels. “In fact, if you have the budget, we could make and decorate virtually any item of furniture,” Damiaens exclaims enthusiastically.

Liege style furniture

To make an item of Liège-style furniture is a highly complex process. The preparatory technical drawings can take a full month, as every item of furniture decorated by Damiaens is unique and requires a totally new set of drawings. 
His first task is to make a rough sketch of the pattern, which might be based on an original item of furniture or created uniquely by Damiaens himself and drawn in the Liège-style. 

This is then presented to the customer, and after any necessary amendments are made, the final technical drawing is redrawn on tracing paper and pinned to the selected panel of wood. The design is then transferred onto the wood, which in most cases is French oak.
The next stage is the only time that Damiaens uses a machine (apart from one to sharpen his tools). He skilfully manipulates an electric milling machine to remove the bulk of the wood surrounding the design, after which the actual hand carving can begin.

Damiaens first uses a home-made scraper to remove the rough edges and excess wood missed by the milling machine, before bringing his vast collection of Swiss-made razor-sharp wood carving chisels into action. Once the carving is completed, the panel is returned to the cabinet-maker who treats it and incorporates it into the intended item of furniture.
Grinling Gibbons Style of Carving

 One reason why Damiaens likes his job is the variety of projects he is asked to undertake. As well as the larger items of furniture which take a year to complete, he carves and decorates a range of smaller items. At the end of a long working day he tries to find time to work on projects for his own house. He is currently building and decorating new kitchen cabinets.
Grinling Gibbons High-relief carving

 As to the future, Damiaens likes to set himself new carving challenges, his latest being to work in the style of Grinling Gibbons, one of his heroes. “Working mostly in lime wood, Gibbons is particularly well-known for his exquisite cascades of flowers, fruit and leaves, which were applied to paneling, furniture, walls and even chimneys,” explains Damiaens. “So detailed were his carvings that in certain light they look natural and lifelike, and have been likened to lacework. I think he is the finest wood carver of all time.”

By Denzil Walton
 More information : www.patrickdamiaens.be

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