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Chains carved from a single block of wood, cages whittled with wooden balls rattling inside—all “made with just a pocketknife”—are among our most enduring folk designs. Who makes them and why? what is their history? what do they mean for their makers, for their viewers, for our society? Simon J. Bronner portrays four wood carvers in southern Indiana, men who had been transplanted from the rural landscapes of their youth to industrial towns. After retiring, they took up a skill they remembered from childhood. Bronner discusses how creativity helped these men adjust to change and how viewers’ responses to carving reflect their own backgrounds. By recording the narratives of these men’s lives, the stories and anecdotes that laced their conversation, Bronner finds new insight into the functions and symbolism of traditional craft. Including anew illustrated afterword in which the author discusses recent developments in the carver’s art, this new edition will appeal to carvers, scholars, and anyone interested in traditional woodworking.

A masterfully balanced psychological interpretation of a group of traditional artists, their creativity, and the functions and symbolism of their works. -- Winterthur Portfolio

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Folk art, Indiana, Wood-carvers, Wood-carving, Folklore


Interdisciplinary Arts and Media


Originally published as Chain Carvers: Old Men Crafting Meaning.

The Carver's Art: Crafting Meaning from Wood
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