The toys of


Turned out for the ark. In spite of their distinctive markings, most of these critters were created in multiples, from turned profiles. Careful shaping and coloring make each piece unique.

Rings of Animals are a Turning Tradition in the Mountain Villages of Eastern Germany

By Christa Pandey

Who would think that a deftly turned wooden hoop would split to reveal the profile of an animal? This unique form of lathe work has been practiced in the German Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) for centuries. While it is not a quick way to earn an income from a craft, it might appeal to the accomplished hobbyist.

Working on a heavy lathe, the turner starts out with a knot-free, 1-ft.-long blank of wet spruce, centering it on a special ring chuck. (See upper left photo, facing page.) After roughing out a cylinder, the turner works on the face of the log, resting his long-handled tools on an angled wooden rest. An accomplished turner may have anywhere from 20 to 30 different piercing, hooking, spear-point or spoon-bit tools. Used in combination, these custom-made implements allow the crafter to make the most intricate cuts.

Animals take shape feet-first, as the turner gently reveals hoofs, haunches, necks, bellies and ears. To form the backs, he parts the ring with the finished underside off the remaining log and fits it onto a friction or jam chuck. He can now work on the perimeter of the piece using a standard rest for his tools. (See upper right photo, facing page.) Depending on the curves used, the animals can stand tali, prowl or graze.

When rhc finished ring is split with a sharp knife and a hammer it will reveal the animal profile. (See photo at lower right.) Seeing the finished animal outline in a whole ring takes a great deal of imagination and sense of form. Mistakes arc often difficult to discern and impossible to rectify.

Each ring yields about 40 to 60 animal pieces. Once cut, the pieces arc usually whittled into more rounded shapes, then tails and horns are attached as necessary. As a final step, the animals are painted. Simpler ones gain their coats by just dipping them in paint; finer, more intricate miniatures are painted by hand with loving attention to detail. (See photo, facing page.)

An Enduring Tradition

For centuries the small towns in the Erzgcbirge have been famous for their remarkable cottage industry of wooden toys. Nutcrackers vied with nativity scenes, angels and village scenes for the attention of children and their parents. Internationally known are the Christmas pyramids of two or more tiers, in which the beveled blades of the top wheel are driven slowly by the rising heat from four candles, thereby revealing a nativity scene in the round.

In the past fort)' years much of what these small towns produced was sent abroad to earn foreign exchange. Today, tourists interested in woodworking can again freely visit these historic towns in the lovely Erzgcbirge highlands that form part of the border between Germany and Czechoslovakia. Visitors can buy distinctive F.tvgebirge wares on the spot or—better yet—watch them being made.

Like the miners who sought their fortune during the American gold rush, early inhabitants of the Erzgcbirge were lured to these mountains by the ore (Erz) that has been mined there since the Middle Ages. In a process translated as "soaping" (scifcn), Erzgebirgers initially extracted tin from various creeks. Over time, tin and other ores such as sil-

Horses in a ring. Split with a sharp knife, the finished profile reveals the turner's skill. This ring will yield 40 to 60 animals.

ver and tungsten were extracted, but as mining diminished the people had to find other means of existence. Forests that existed throughout numerous villages provided the raw material for the new economic base.

At first, lathe-operating entrepreneurs provided the local population with wooden plates, buttons and other household goods. But gradually toy-making came to flourish. Today, it's still the mainstay of many communities in the

Starting with a tree. The blank is a knot-free wet spruce log, about 1 ft. long, mounted in a special ring chuck. The turner first shapes the delicate contours of the animal's legs and underside.

Shaping the profile. A jam chuck holds the carefully contoured ring, which is parted from the blank and repositioned for shaping the head and upper body.

Er/.gebirge region. And while the American hobbyist may not want to compete with their expertise, skill and intricate details, making even a simple ring of animals might be a challenge worth trying. A.

CHRIST A PANDEY lives in Texas and ivorks as a freelance writer.

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