Black Forest Carvings and Carvings from the Black Forest, Part 2

Surprising Origin

By: Carly Hill, Staff Writer • Jan 18, 2012 • 0 Comments

Frankfurters are from Frankfurt.  Fiji Water is from Fiji, but strangely, Black Forest Carvings are not from the Black Forest.  They are from Switzerland –specifically the stunningly beautiful village of Brienz.  The Black Forest is a wooded mountain range in southwest Germany, while Brienz is close to the geographical center of Switzerland, found in the Bernese Oberland.  I asked Simon why the incorrect name stuck and he answered back in his lovely English accent saying,  “I think it has something to do with (the fact that) the clocks back in that day were carved in Germany and I think somebody at some point mislabeled the whole subject…it is a very whimsical name…Black Forest Carvings.”

In regards to origin of the carvings, we know that in the 13th century, every day items, as well as churches and houses were embellished with carvings.  Carving was a popular pastime for farmers and craftsman – nestled in the outrageously beautiful mountains – with an abundance of wood and no shortage of inspiration.  They carved bears, human figurines, and furniture out of linden and walnut tree trunks. Two centuries later, what started out as a pastime, became an actual source of income for the locals of Brienz.  Christian Fischer (1790-1848) is the man credited with beginning the Brienz carving industry.  He was a carver himself, who began carving egg-cups, needle boxes, serviette rings, and more.  He ended up selling his own carvings to tourists.  Fischer encouraged others to jump on the bandwagon – teaching them the craft of carving in his workshop.  Before long, the carvings of Brienz were world famous!  In 1862, the Cantonal Woodcarving School was established in Brienz – the only of its kind, teaching Wood Carving as a 4 year course. 

Although approximately 1300 carvers made these pieces between the years of 1820 and 1940, there are not many carvers who are well known .  As Simon said, “The Swiss are a secretive bunch.”  However, there was one notable man known as “King of carvers” named Johann Huggler (1834-1912).  He was a masterful carver – especially skilled at carving animals and human figures.  He felt that his son, Hans (1877-1947), had natural talent, so he educated his son the best he could – sending him to the Academy of Art in Munich.  When Hans came back to work at his father’s Woodcarving school, he realized after some time that solely teaching was limiting to him.  His workshop became the biggest enterprise in the industry.  Hans carved people that he saw – tourists, farmers, etc.  He also did some of the first nativity scenes in 1915, using real people that he knew as his models for the scene.

I asked Simon if people “in the know,” referred to the Black Forest Carvings as “Swiss Carvings “or “Brienz Carvings.”  He said that while some collectors do, most people (including Simon, the expert) call them Black Forest Carvings.   

Continue to Part 3