The beauty of woodcarving first captured my heart while traveling through the historical streets of England and Europe during my early college years. As I lovingly explored the aged carved wood of grand cathedrals, the gilded beauty of majestic palaces, and the glorious wonder of stately mansions, I instantly became lost in discovering this fascinating world of shapes.
Returning home to Minneapolis, Minnesota, I was eager to find a way to learn this captivating art. Wondering whether I may have been born several hundred years late, I thought I may have missed my chance. Is this type of woodcarving even being done anymore? Are there any teachers? I was fortunate to find a European master carver, Konstantinos Papadakis, who taught me the traditional, old-world techniques and styles of classical, European woodcarving. After studying with Konstantinos for three years, I returned to Europe; first to Greece and then to the City and Guild’s College in London, England to learn the varied techniques from other master carvers.
As a natural progression in my woodcarving journey, I took an opportunity to try my hand at stone carving. The material is different, the tools are different, but the visualizing and shaping process was similar in many ways. Both materials required envisioning what needed to be removed to achieve the desired shape, and once that material is removed, there’s no putting it back! From the very first chip, I knew I would love stone carving as much as woodcarving.
As I settled into my new career back in the US, I was determined to make carving my life. There were quite a few lean years when I first started, but I was willing to go hungry to accomplish my goal. I began taking on small commissions at first, but eventually grew to carve classically carved church furniture, fireplace mantels, period furniture reproductions, antique repair, and sculptures. This was a time where I focused on refining my carving technique and becoming more efficient and confident in my skills. It was an inspiring and challenging time where I pushed my skills to their limit, as I never said “no” to any carving request that came to my workshop. One way or another, I was determined to discover a way to complete any request. Still to this day, if someone asks me to carve something that I have never attempted, I say “yes” and enjoy the discovery of a new challenge.
I soon found there were others who were equally fascinated with this art and wanted to learn. I was so thrilled to know that I was not the only one who found woodcarving so captivating. I began to teach and share the art of woodcarving at schools and woodworking clubs throughout the US – and have even taught a few courses in Germany!
Taking in-person classes is an ideal way to learn woodcarving, as there is immediate feedback and interaction. I soon discovered that many people could not afford to take such courses due to financial, occupation, or family obligations. That is how I came to start Mary May’s Online School of Traditional Woodcarving in 2012. My goal is to share the wonderful art of woodcarving and to teach the skils that have enchanted me for many years.
I am so grateful for the daily love, support and encouragement of my friends and family and especially my husband, Stephen, who has been my constant cheerleader. As I look back at the various paths that brought me to where I am today, I see the hand of God in every opportunity that came my way. The Lord has given me a gift of carving and I hope to honor Him in every piece I carve.
- Carving the Camellia Flower
- Carving away with Mary May
- Mary May, Woodcarver
- Stamping Out Cookie Carving!
- 18th century craft gets a 21st-century boost from Johns Island's Mary May
- Interview and process video of Mary May in Charleston, SC. Produced as part of "The Makers" article for the Charleston City Paper.
- The Highland Woodworker, Episode 12 – Moment with a Master
- Mary May: Classical to the Core (Article in Popular Woodworking by Christopher Schwarz.)
- Follow Friday, Woodcarver and Instructor, Mary May (Online Article for Highland Woodworking.)
- Popular Woodworking Blog by Chris Schwarz
- Woodworker’s Journal
- Charleston City Paper, Feature Handiwork – Local artisans carry on a legacy of craftsmanship
- Woodshop News – Carving a Labor of Love
- Mary May Podcast Interview
- Woodworking-News, Woodcarving on a Turned Bedpost
- Popular Woodworking Magazine: Shop Woodworking Articles
- SAPFM Yearly Journal (Society of American Period Furniture Makers)
Photos of Work