Carving with conflict – FineWoodworking

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Synopsis: Alexander Grabovetskiy learned carving in the Soviet Union, where he grew up. He kept carving when various transgressions landed him in a prison camp. Now in the U.S., he carves full time, infusing his work with an allegory about the conflicts of his life.

Growing up in the Soviet Union, Alexander Grabovetskiy got his first chisel at age 6. “I stole it from my grandfather,” he said, “and used it on a brick.” At 16, he showed enough promise that a master carver took him under his wing and taught him all he could about carving design and technique. At that same time, Alexander found Christianity and, in a country where owning a Bible was illegal, began preaching in public; he also refused to join the Red Army. These transgressions landed him in a Soviet prison camp, where he survived in part by carving and building furniture in exchange for a potato a day. Once out of prison, he found his way to the United States, and for 25 years he’s been working wood—and preaching—unfettered. For many years he ran large shops producing furniture, cabinets, and millwork, but in 2017 he sold his production machinery and committed to carving full time. This high-relief wall piece in European lime wood, with its peonies and swirling acanthus leaves, might seem a pure expression of botanical beauty, but Alexander’s biography lurks under the leaves. He explains that it’s an allegory about his imprisonment and the clash of communism and democracy. “There is always conflict in my designs,” he says. When he looks at his carving tools, he thinks of them as foot soldiers. “Each one has its job, but they work together as an army. I look at it as a war. I’m fighting for art.”

—Jonathan Binzen

Photo: Alexander Grabovetskiy

From Fine Woodworking #292

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