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CARVERS OF THE TITANIC


By Charles ("Ted") Ireland
Read about Ted Ireland

Dreamers dream dreams and craftsman make things with their hands, hearts and tools. When dreamers and craftsman come together, visions take shape and objects of art and utility are created. I am a woodcarver with a lifelong passion for wood and woodcarving as well as an appreciation for craftsmanship, hand tools and artisans. With mallet, chisels, knives and planes, I have had the good fortune to produce carvings for a number of proud sailing ships. Among them are the Kalmar Nyckel, a replica 17th century Dutch pinnace, the Kathryn M. Lee, a working Chesapeake Bay fishing schooner and the twin sail-training brigantines, Irving and Exy Johnson.

In my research of woodcarving, I became intrigued with the elegant and exquisitely detailed carvings produced for two of the great luxury steamers of the early 1900’s, the Olympic and the Titanic. In the Harland & Wolf shipyard the builders of the Olympic and Titanic employed hundreds of artists, craftsmen, decorators and master carvers to create high quality works of art to grace the two “queens of the oceans”.

I remember seeing a photograph of an intricately carved piece of oak paneling and an oak staircase post that once was part of the Titanic’s elaborately decorated interior. These pieces were salvaged from the wreck of the Titanic and were representative of the great ship’s luxury furnishings. The panel originally stood above the doors of the Titanic’s magnificent lounge and required great skill, patience and artistry to produce. I know because in my Delaware workshop I have attempted to reproduce some of the design elements that were a part of that piece of the Titanic. As I worked to replicate some of the intricate design elements, I seemed to be moved by the same creative spirit that no doubt guided the hands of the original Titanic carver. I wondered if the original carver of the panel with its antique musical instrument motif was following his own inspiration or that of an artist, designer or carver before him. A carver gets deeply involved in his work and begins to feel a part of the patterns emerging from the wood. As I tried to inscribe the lines of the panel’s antique instruments I could almost hear the sounds of the instruments as they gradually emerged from the wood. The sound of my chisel made its own music as it unlocked the magic of the Titanic panel. I wondered if the Titanic carver heard the same tune when he engaged his chisel and created the shapes of the instruments. Was I hearing what the Titanic carver heard? Do mallets, chisels and planes make the same sounds when carving the same designs? Does the artist’s brush stroke or the potter’s hand working clay make the same sounds today as they did in times past? Well, possibly…but I’m just a simple woodcarver. Then again, the artisans of the past may speak to those among us who attempt to replicate their magnificent work through the sounds of their hand tools as they created the grooves and shapes of their carvings. After all, a record or CD is little more than grooves cut into a disc of material. Can grooves cut into wood record sounds of the woodcarver? A sense of mystery has always surrounded the plight of the Titanic. Could these questions represent yet another Titanic mystery? I surely don’t know, so I’ll leave that to you or metaphysics to answer.

I’m anxious to start my next carving project… a panel of two angelic figures poised face-to-face leaning against a pillar containing a ship’s clock. But wait! Didn’t Charles Wilson, the master carver of the Olympic and Titanic, carve “Honour and Glory Crowning Time” for both ships? Is history repeating itself? I’m not a historian either, just a woodcarver who attempts to learn from past masters and who dreams of creating works worthy of their great talent with mallet, chisels, knives and planes.

Charles (“Ted”) Ireland is a woodcarver and author of the award winning book, Mallets, Chisels & Planes, The Building Of The Tall Ship Kalmar Nyckel From Vision To Launch.

 

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