Black Forest Carvings and Carvings from the Black Forest: Enchanting and Whimsical

18 Jan

By: Carly Hill, Staff Writer

You’re skiing with the family in Aspen.  You admire the backdrop of white powdery snow.  Then, you tell your wife you’re going to go to the lodge to warm up.  You walk in and have a seat in a wooden chair that is carved into the form of a bear.  On the coffee table, there is a wooden music box with the figures of dogs carved in.  The table, the wall hangings, everything around you exudes warmth and nature.  These are Black Forest Carvings.

Simon Daniels, along with his father, Michael Daniels, and Jay Arenski penned the book, “Swiss Carvings 1820-1940.”  Simon is one of our Latique dealers.  His store, Daniel’s Antiques, has two locations – one in Aspen – which specializes in Black Forest Carvings and the other in South Florida – which is a more formal store, housing a variety of antique items.  Simon was kind enough to spend some time sharing his knowledge on the rich history of these enchanting and whimsical pieces.


Surprising Origin

Frankfurters are from Frankfurt.  Fiji Water is from Fiji, but strangely, Black Forest Carvings are not from the Black Forest.  They are from Switzerland –specifically the stunningly beautiful village of Brienz.  The Black Forest is a wooded mountain range in southwest Germany, while Brienz is close to the geographical center of Switzerland, found in the Bernese Oberland.  I asked Simon why the incorrect name stuck and he answered back in his lovely English accent saying,  “I think it has something to do with (the fact that) the clocks back in that day were carved in Germany and I think somebody at some point mislabeled the whole subject…it is a very whimsical name…Black Forest Carvings.”

In regards to origin of the carvings, we know that in the 13th century, every day items, as well as churches and houses were embellished with carvings.  Carving was a popular pastime for farmers and craftsman – nestled in the outrageously beautiful mountains – with an abundance of wood and no shortage of inspiration.  They carved bears, human figurines, and furniture out of linden and walnut tree trunks. Two centuries later, what started out as a pastime, became an actual source of income for the locals of Brienz.  Christian Fischer (1790-1848) is the man credited with beginning the Brienz carving industry.  He was a carver himself, who began carving egg-cups, needle boxes, serviette rings, and more.  He ended up selling his own carvings to tourists.  Fischer encouraged others to jump on the bandwagon – teaching them the craft of carving in his workshop.  Before long, the carvings of Brienz were world famous!  In 1862, the Cantonal Woodcarving School was established in Brienz – the only of its kind, teaching Wood Carving as a 4 year course.

Although approximately 1300 carvers made these pieces between the years of 1820 and 1940, there are not many carvers who are well known .  As Simon said, “The Swiss are a secretive bunch.”  However, there was one notable man known as “King of carvers” named Johann Huggler (1834-1912).  He was a masterful carver – especially skilled at carving animals and human figures.  He felt that his son, Hans (1877-1947), had natural talent, so he educated his son the best he could – sending him to the Academy of Art in Munich.  When Hans came back to work at his father’s Woodcarving school, he realized after some time that solely teaching was limiting to him.  His workshop became the biggest enterprise in the industry.  Hans carved people that he saw – tourists, farmers, etc.  He also did some of the first nativity scenes in 1915, using real people that he knew as his models for the scene.

I asked Simon if people “in the know,” referred to the Black Forest Carvings as “Swiss Carvings “or “Brienz Carvings.”  He said that while some collectors do, most people (including Simon, the expert) call them Black Forest Carvings.

Cuckoo Clocks

The cuckoo clock is an item that actually did come from the Black Forest.  There were some from Switzerland (better quality clocks, actually), but most were known to have come from The Black Forest.  The dark wood cases of these clocks are carved with intricate folk and forest scenes. Cuckoo clocks come in a one day and eight day variety.  With eight day cuckoo clocks, every hour, on the hour, a little bird pops out and gives the classic “cuckoo, cuckoo” sound.  Often, the cuckoo bird is followed by a procession of townspeople and forest animals that circle around and then retreat back into their little home until the next hour strikes.  With many of the one day clocks, the bird (and bird entourage) pops out and cuckoo’s every half hour.  The traditional cuckoo clock is embellished with carvings of leaves and animals.  These clocks are mainly weight driven (with the exception of the few more modern ones that are spring driven).The Black Forest region, in Germany, is cold and dark – known for its impressive snowfall.  Because the area was never big in the agriculture department, clock production exploded in the area.

It’s said that local citizens learned how to make clocks because a traveler introduced them (around the year 1640) to a simple Bohemian clock.  They took the clock apart and taught themselves how to put it back together.  They even built the tools they would need to reproduce the clocks.  By late 1700s, these clocks were exported and sold places as far away as Russia.

The man thought to have invented the cuckoo clock is Franz Anton Ketterer (1676-1749).  Ketterer used the church organ pipe sound to make the bird “cuckoo cuckoo.”  French people took to the cuckoo clocks, but believe it or not, they called them “Swiss Clocks” even though most of them were from Germany!  The clocks adapted to different cultures and what they preferred.  Every nation had its little preferences; the French loved their cuckoo clocks to be ornamented with flowers.  The Dutch and Belgians preferred tin or porcelain dials. The clocks continued to evolve – more recently – in the 20th century, being digitalized, playing different songs at different hours and being programmed for optional silence in the nighttime hours.

New cuckoo clocks continue to be “the” souvenir to pick up when visiting the Black Forest in Germany.

Black Forest Decor

Typically, you see black forest carvings in mountain homes or lodges, but there are collectors all over the place.  You don’t technically need to live in a cabin or on a mountain to have cabin décor.  Collecting Black Forest Carvings will add warmth and ruggedness to your space, making it feel more like a lodge, no matter where your home is actually located.  If you love the outdoors and prefer your house to feel “homey,” this is a good look for you.  If you want to create this natural, earthy look in your home, seek out furniture and wall hangings that are raw and unfinished.  Lighting should be soft and your color scheme should consist of earthy tones – browns, greens, dark reds, etc.

Although Black Forest Carvings were produced in Switzerland, they have been shipped all over the world by the Victorian travelers.  Simon said, “Today, they are most prominently found in Europe, America, South America, in Australia.  But, really, they can be found all over.”

“Black Forest Carvings have always been popular,” he added.  “They appeal to people – the dogs, rabbits, bears, etc.  They are quite expensive because they are so rare.”

Whether or not you live in the mountains, adding Black Forest Carvings is a great way to take a house and make it a home.

Check out Daniel’s Antiques for your very own Black Forest Carvings –

Happy Latiquing! 

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Posted by on January 18, 2012 in Uncategorized


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