Harley Refsal started carving in 1968, inspired by the wooden folk-art figures he saw while travelling in Norway and Sweden. In researching the Scandinavian style of carving, he found references to Axel Petersson Döderhultarn, a very well-known Swedish carver who originated the rough-hewn, or “flat-plane,” style that Harley admired. Although Döderhultarn carved in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, his impact was still seen in the many carvings Harley saw in shops during subsequent visits to Norway and Sweden.
By the 1980s, however, Harley noticed that there weren’t as many carvings available for sale in Scandinavia. He had taught himself (and others) to emulate Döderhultarn’s simple, almost impressionistic, style of storytelling in wood, but it appeared that no one was teaching Norwegians to carve their own folk art. Harley pursued the idea when he and his family moved to Norway in 1988 so he could attend graduate school. Upon discovering that no one was teaching figure carving in either Norway or Sweden, Harley did it himself. It was the first of many classes; Harley taught so many Norwegians how to carve, in fact, that he was awarded the St. Olav’s Medal from the King of Norway in recognition of his contributions to Norwegian folk art. He was named the 2012 Woodcarver of the Year by Woodcarving Illustrated magazine for both reviving the art of flat-plane carving and teaching it across the United States and around the world. His work has been featured on numerous radio and television programs, including the PBS Peabody Award-winning series “Craft in America.”
And, Harley literally wrote the book. Several of them. He tells the story of Scandinavian flat-plane carving—and, really, the history of all caricature carving—in his book, Scandinavian Figure Carvings: From the Viking Era to Döderhultarn, Trygg, and Modern Carvers. He provides several step-by-step projects and scores of patterns in Carving Flat-Plane Style Caricatures. Material from both books has been published before, but both have been updated with new material, including extensive photos, maps, event calendars, and more.
Meet Harley and hear him speak about Scandinavian flat-plane carving at the 2016 Fox Chapel Publishing Open House and Woodworking Show on May 13-14, 2016 in Lancaster, Pa. Click here for details.
Want to learn flat-plane carving?
Take a rare public class from Harley at Fox Headquarters on May 16-18. You’ll finish and paint at least one carving; some carvers manage two or three. Click here for details or tickets.