Maureen Hockley, BWA publicity officer and Woodcarving contributor gives us an insight into her passion for carving
A decorative panel carved as an exercise
A selection of the heads carved by Maureen over the years
Maureen usually works in lime but this is one of the few pieces carved in American black walnut
Three figures for the Storyteller sculpture at the National Memorial Arboretum
When did you start to carve?
My father had always made wooden toys for my brother, sister and me, and I loved watching him at work. I was slightly envious of boys being offered woodwork at school while I was forced to study needlework and cookery but did nothing about it until I retired. I decided it was too late to become a carpenter but I could probably tackle woodcarving, and it only took three half-day lessons for me to become hooked.
What made you continue carving?
I started reading everything I could about woodcarving and was amazed at the variety of subjects and styles that could be created in so many different timbers. I wanted to try them all. I joined the BWA and discovered a whole world of carvers then, only a few months
into this newfound activity, I was diagnosed with cancer and had to endure a year of rather unpleasant treatment. During this time, woodcarving was the one thing that made me forget everything else and my husband decided I needed a workshop. I couldn't give up after that, could I?
What inspires you when you carve?
The act of cutting through wood with a sharp gouge is a pleasure in itself, but the thought that this simple activity might eventually result in a pleasing piece of sculpture spurs me on. I am only an hour's train journey from London so frequently visit museums looking for inspiration, my favourite being the V&A.
What are you currently working on?
I like to have a couple of pieces on the go so that I can swap between roughing out and the much more satisfying stage of detail carving. I have recently finished a bust of a girl holding a mask and am now working on a dancing.
Which tool wouldn't you be without and why?
Like most carvers I own a fair selection of gouges but looking at my toolbox it is easy to see by the rather grubby colour of the handle, that the most used is my Pfeil No.3 7mm fishtail. This tool is so versatile that I have two of them as I like rounded corners for some cuts.
Which is your preferred style of carving and why?
I enjoy carving figures but particularly like faces and hair. Considering we all have one, and look at others all the time, it is amazing how badly you can go wrong carving a face. Just when I think I have mastered one facial feature I realise how poor another one is and as there is an infinite variety of hairstyles, I enjoy the challenge of constantly striving to improve.
What has been your biggest carving achievement?
Lord Snowdon being interviewed about his work was asked what he considered was his best photograph and he said his next one! This is exactly how I feel - each time I finish a carving I know I can do better next time. Having said that, the carvings that have given me the most satisfaction are those completed for the National Memorial Arboretum, working with a team and on my own.
Whose work do you most admire?
The work of Tilman Riemenschneider has never been bettered. I have stood in front of his Altar of the Holy Blood at Rothenburg and been blown away by the quality and intricacy of the carving.
If you didn't carve what would you do?
I have always had practical hobbies and for many years processed and printed colour photographs. I intended spending more time on photography when I retired but digital photography and carving hit me at the same time. Fortunately I can combine both in articles.
Describe the view from your workbench and area where you live
I live on the outskirts of Southend-on-sea, a sprawling urban area in Essex, on the Thames estuary. I am fortunate to be surrounded by farmland only two miles from the seafront and a short drive from the creeks and islands of the East coast. From my workshop I look down my garden that is grass with a few ornamental trees, a number of rabbits, the occasional fox and a lot of birds.
Who would you like to carve for?
Very selfishly I carve for myself but do enjoy making pieces as gifts for friends. I also believe that art is created to be seen, so I get enormous satisfaction out of contributing to exhibitions organised by my local BWA region. I would also like to contribute to some local project, perhaps in a hospital or library where it could give pleasure to a wide section of the community.
Are you a self-critic of your work?
I feel that if I ever considered my carvings perfect I would have to give up because there would be nowhere else to go. As it is, I know there is not time in my life to become as good, or as versatile, as I would like to be so I will continue to struggle towards creating the perfect face.