Editor’s note: One of the delights in editing Mary May’s upcoming book on carving acanthus leaves is that she poured so much of herself into it. Not just in the instruction offered in the book – but also her biography. While you learn how to carve the many variants on the classic acanthus, you also follow Mary as she ventures all over the world in her efforts to carve, carve and carve. Here’s one of the short tales that I particularly enjoyed.
We’re working hard on getting this book edited so that it will be out by summer. Stay tuned.
— Christopher Schwarz
My first experience with woodcarving occurred when I was 6. I had just made the big move from kindergarten to first grade and we were all excited to have learned a new skill. With a big yellow pencil and some lined paper, our task was to neatly print our names in capital letters. Fortunately, my name is mostly straight lines, so writing M-A-R-Y came easily. Proud of my new skill, I practiced this new art form wherever I could.
As it happened, there was a lovely, nine-drawer antique pine dresser in my bedroom. It seemed obvious that the smooth surfaces of the wooden drawers were a perfect canvas to show off my penmanship, but the lines from the big yellow pencil did not show up well. I borrowed one of my dad’s screwdrivers and proceeded to carefully etch my name on the surface of each and every drawer. I was able to scratch the soft pine deeply without much effort, and while I was proud of my new masterpiece, I was already looking for more places to share my art.
However, it soon dawned on me that not everyone would appreciate my creativity. I loved it, but would they? My inventive (and manipulative) young mind started figuring a way to keep myself squeaky clean. In a moment of sneaky inspiration, I realized that my brother’s name “MARK” might provide the perfect cover. I thought, “I’ll just draw an extra line on the Y and make it look like a K.” I was sure everyone would think that Mark did it! So I altered the Y on every drawer with an extra, diagonal scratch to complete the transformation. I was so impressed with my cleverness that it was a real shock when my parents immediately blamed me! How did they know?
The wise punishment from my parents was to make me use that dresser all the way through high school, facing my “Mark” every single day. My love for carving only increased from that young age, as has my respect for parents who recognize the passions of their child and help foster it into their grown life’s work.
— Mary May, Mary May’s School of Traditional Woodcarving