The Unique Vision Of Teo Mahlknecht archive

Thursday 8 April 2010


From his bench, carver Teo Mahlknecht looks southeast from the Italian village of Ortisei to the immense peaks of the Sassolungo range and the Dolomite Mountains. Working from his little atelier in the ground floor of his house he produces remarkable wood sculptures, which are as original as they are diverse.

Like many budding carvers, Teo spent a good deal of his childhood in his parents' workshop trying to carve his imaginings with a screwdriver, but it wasn't until he attended the local School of Arts that he created his first serious sculpture with real tools - a small relief carving of his initials. Teo sold his first carving at the age of 16, and for the past 22 years, has been an artist and professional carver.

Mould breaking

In common with the Tyrolean carvers steeped in the historical practice of hand carving, Teo admires the work of great artists in the classical tradition. But he is not stuck in the past: "I admire the great sculptors; Michelangelo, Giacometti and Rodin, but also think highly of some contemporary carvers such as Katsura Funakoshi. Whether it's art or architecture or design, I simply admire work that follows a new path - mould-breaking concepts and innovation. But as well as the ideas, it is important to me that there is workmanship and mechanical skill evident..."

While his surroundings provide rich stimulation from the natural world, inspiration for his work comes from all quarters: "Occasionally the ideas for a sculpture come in the night, but I also just observe daily situations of people at their leisure and at their work - then I write the idea or make a sketch. Afterwards I make a model in clay and start to carve."


No two of Teo's carvings are the same - often allegorical and occasionally unfathomable works such as Chickenwings describes a crucial moment with an uncertain outcome. This carving seems to be a work apart - it's not that the themes aren't found elsewhere in Teo's catalogue, but in creations such as Gallus Gallus Incontinentia and Attention Hardy, the moment has passed, leaving the viewer to consider the thoughts of a chicken who may have made a mistake.

Not your usual content for woodcarving, but Teo's singular creations all withstand scrutiny - no one produces work quite like him; with his highly imaginative and intricate carvings he achieves what he himself admires - originality.

Another fine example of this can be found in Swimcourse which is hand-carved in pine with the water surface cut from a Plexiglas sheet. Although the hippo appears to be the star of the show, it's the nonchalant birds that grab much of the attention. The contrast between the 'barrelous' hippo and the birds' posing makes for a scene of pure comedy, which the animals also seem to appreciate.


Teo has just completed a remarkable carving to commemorate the 75th year of the Maciaconi shop in Selva Val Gardena. Measuring an impressive 5 x 2m (16.5 x 6.5ft), the relief is entirely hand carved from an assembled block of linden wood (lime) measuring 2m.

Teo is understandably delighted with the results: "I particularly like the geometry of the stylised wood panels in combination with the 'cartoon-like' carved story." The carving is an interpretation of the Maciaconi's store logo - a stylised mountain which represents the Sassolungo mountain chain. The carved narrative illustrates the

history of the store, the origin of the name, its evolution and the location. It also shows the activity of the owners, the Demetz family, and follows the evolution of tourism in Val Gardena through a series of allegorical scenes.

Another piece, which defines the story telling element that Teo puts into his work, is A22 The Development of Traffic which explains the progress of tourism traffic in the Alps. Commissioned by the Touriseum (museum of the tourism Merano-South-Tyrol) this hand-carved sculpture in linden wood is a reference to the A22 Brennero freeway, built 70 years ago, enabling the free movement of travellers. Characters include a German tourist on a motorcycle with a Saint Bernard dog in a sidecar, a Fiat 600 with luggage on the roof, and a VW Bulli with trailer and punctured tyre, amongst others.


Teo, is of course, no stranger to large-scale carvings, as can be seen with The South Tyrol Game. This intriguing work is part of a permanent exhibition in the Museum of Tourism and is full of South Tyrol cliches and irony - it is the largest 'wooden tourism 4pin-ball-machine' in the world! The players steer a ball with levers through the holiday paradise, past lively scenes and lots of comic details - from the ski slopes to a hospital full of legs in plaster and an apres-ski party. The base of the game is hand-carved wood representing singular elements of the landscape - mountains, lakes and villages which resemble reality.

A little ball - the tourist - makes a journey through canals to visit the beauty of the place. The visitor can control the ball with joysticks and chooses whether to go skiing, to go Torggelen (an autumn festival), or go climbing.

Clearly these complex and intricate carvings take a long time the plan and execute. When asked what he'd carve in a month off, Teo muses, “I like to create and carve animated sculptures such as The South Tyrol Game, but a month is too short really... perhaps something spontaneous like a crazy hedgehog!" I can only imagine what kind of hedgehog Teo would create!

Tegan Foley

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Ruth Jindall , Mahlknecht

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Chosen Timber

Teo Mahlknecht prefers to work with three types of wood: pine (Pinus spp), linden or lime (Tilia spp) and walnut (Juglans spp) depending on the kind of sculpture; detailed or modern, coloured or natural

Further Information

To see more unique work by Teo Mahlknecht, see his website at:

Attention Hardy - the Crazy Cock! Hand-carved in pine (Pinus spp) 480mm (18 25/32in)