Marvin Kaiseratt is the 2006 Woodcarver of the Year

kaisersatt-portait-fsBy Bob Duncan

Marvin Kaisersatt, Marv to his friends, is a founding member of the Caricature Carvers of America (CCA). He is an active carving instructor, has contributed to various CCA publications, and is the author of Creating Caricature Heads in Wood and on Paper.

Making his living as a school teacher at the time, a work stoppage in 1976 inspired Marv to start carving wood. Since then, the 2006 Wood Carving Illustrated Woodcarver of the Year hasn’t stopped. “Something good came out of the strike,” Marv said with a laugh. “I did jigsaw puzzles and read, but I needed something else to do. So I went to the library and took out a book on whittling. I’ve been carving ever since.”

wcoy-lead1He took a few classes with Ivan Whillock, where he learned about sharpening tools, basic carving, perspective, and relief carving. Marv carved several pieces from Harold Enlow’s book on caricatures. Then he decided to carve his own designs. “My early drawings were really sad,” he said. “But by practicing, you can improve. Do a lot of sketches, and try to get your ideas on paper.”

Marv keeps files of clippings from newspapers and magazines. When he needs inspiration, he spends time looking through the folders until he finds something interesting. “These clippings are a springboard,” he said. “I usually end up with something totally different.”

Marv challenges himself by carving his caricature scenes—both figures and base—out of one piece of laminated basswood. The only add-ons he uses are thin pieces, such as fishing poles, that can’t be feasibly carved from the solid block. This helps him think and design different levels, or heights, into the carving. But it does require more careful planning at the beginning of the process. His scenes focus on exaggerating ordinary people doing ordinary things. Recently, he has gravitated towards stylized caricatures. “I spend two-thirds of my time researching and designing the project,” Marv said. “The carving only takes one-third of the time.”

wcoy-lead3For most projects, Marv makes an armature and clay model. Designing the piece to be carved from a single block requires some forethought. He needs to consider the tools he will be using and how he will carve a specific section. Marv plans exactly how he will carve a piece when designing it. At any time, he has several clay models set up in his apartment in different stages of completion. “Planning is a very important step—for me it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “I’ve got some clay models that I may never carve. I won a Foredom,” he said, “but since I live in an apartment and don’t have a dust collector, I never use it. I get enough dust up here as it is!”

Many of Marv’s carvings have a natural finish. This lets the grain show, he explained, and proves that the carving is not made out of plastic. “I’m not a painter,” he said with a grin. “I leave my larger and more involved pieces unfinished—they call it a carved finish. I’ve dabbled with watercolors on some of my simpler pieces. I have seen some beautiful carvings painted with watercolors. I kinda like that.”

wcoy-scenes4-flopIvan Whillock, a master carver, said Marv’s contributions to the art of carving are substantial. Once a student of Ivan’s, Marv now teaches classes at Whillock studio. “In carving, there are many excellent technicians, carvers who have great skill in execution,” Ivan said. “Many have wonderful imaginations—a great sense of humor. Marv combines all of these with one additional asset—a superior sense of artistic design. Marv designs his works so that the positive objects and negative spaces are distributed in an arresting pattern, not only back to front or side to side, but up and down the visual plane,” Ivan added. “Working from a single block allows him to frame the openings as well. Thus, the pleasure of Marv’s carvings is not only where he places the objects, but how he distributes the open spaces. Those who would argue that caricature carving is a fine art can point to Marv’s work as proof.”

Marv took home Best in Show at the 2005 Affiliated Wood Carvers’ International Woodcarvers Congress (IWC), which is considered to be one of the premier carving shows in the United States. He has also taken home the Cecil Wakefield Award for Unusual Interpretation (1991, 2004), The Flexcut Creativity Award (1998), The People’s Choice Award (1996), Featured Exhibit (1992, 2002), Second Show Runner-up (1997), First Show Runner-up (2002), and has won Best of Caricatures 10 times! He is the only caricature carver to place three times in the top three places at the Congress.

wcoy-stylized5Larry Yudis, show chairman for the IWC, calls Marv an incredible carver. “Marv transcends anything that is considered normal in caricature carving,” Larry said. “His intricate intertwining of his subjects makes the scenes he carves a sheer pleasure to examine. “Marv reached the pinnacle of the International Woodcarvers Congress last year by taking his first Best of Show award,” Larry added.


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