Carving the Acanthus Leaf
This book is now available for Sale through Lost Art Press
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Resin Study Casts and Video Lessons and that go with the chapters in my book are now for sale in my store.

I am happy to announce that after an exciting 3-year journey, I have completed my first woodcarving book - Carving the Acanthus Leaf. Christopher Schwarz and the designers and editors of Lost Art Press have produced and published a beautifully printed and durable hard cover book that I hope will endure and be enjoyed and studied by designers and woodcarvers for generations.

“The long history of the acanthus leaf in decorative arts and architecture can be traced back to ancient Greece. It was embraced by the Roman Empire, passed through the Byzantine Empire and the Middle Ages, and was rediscovered with a new vitality during the Renaissance and Baroque periods. It has remained through the years as perhaps the most commonly carved decorative element throughout history. Students of classical, Western ornament will discover that learning how to design, shape, and incorporate this motif into their designs is a true rite of passage. Whether a professional woodworker, architect, hobbyist, designer, or one simply captivated by classical design and ornamentation, there is much to discover about this mysterious and enduring leaf.” Chapter 1

Book Description by Christopher Schwarz, Lost Art Press

Learning to carve the acanthus leaf is – for carvers – like a pianist learning a Chopin étude, a young oil painter studying the genius of Rembrandt or an aspiring furniture maker learning to cut dovetails by hand.

For carvers, especially those who focus on Classical Western ornament, there comes a time they will inevitably encounter the acanthus leaf, learn it, master it and finally incorporate it into their own designs.

Carving the Acanthus Leaf” by Mary May is a deep exploration into this iconic leaf, which has been a cornerstone of Western ornamentation for thousands of years. May, a professional carver and instructor, starts her book at the beginning. She covers carving tools and sharpening with the efficiency of someone who has taught for years. Then she plunges the reader directly into the work.

It begins with a simple leaf that requires just a few tools. The book then progresses through 13 variations of leaves up to the highly ornate Renaissance and Rococo forms. Each lesson builds on the earlier ones as the complexity slowly increases.

One remarkable aspect of the book is how May has structured each chapter. Each chapter begins with a short discussion of how this particular leaf appears in architecture or the decorative arts, with photos May has taken from her travels around the world. Then you learn how to draw the leaf from scratch. Though you are provided with a full-size or scaled drawing of each leaf, May insists that drawing the leaf makes it easier to carve it. Each step of the drawing process is illustrated in detail.

As May explains how to carve the leaf, she augments each step with multiple photos and illustrations that show where and how each tool should move through the work. The result is that each leaf can have as many as 100 photos and illustrations of each step of the carving process.

In addition to the intense instruction, May also provides a short essay between every chapter that illustrates her journey from a young pumpkin carver to the world-renowned carver she is today. The overall effect is like apprenticing with a master carver, with both the demanding instruction and the personal experiences that make woodworking such a rich craft.

Carving the Acanthus Leaf” is manufactured to survive many hours of use in the shop. The heavy paper is both glued and sewn so the book will lie flat on your benchtop without the pages coming loose. The pages are protected by cloth-covered hardboards and a tear-resistant dust jacket to protect its contents. This is a permanent book – produced and printed entirely in the United States.

How to get your book autographed

Several people have asked me if they could have a signed copy of my book once it is in print. What an honor! Thank you.

These are the options:

Option 1: Once you receive your book, send it to me with a check for the return mailing cost, and I will mail it back after signing it.

Mary May
1082 River Rd
Johns Island, SC 29455

If you send it in a brown box (not Priority Mail) and say that it is "book rate" it should be the least expensive. They say as long as there isn't any letter with it, it can be sent book rate (but a little note shouldn't hurt).

Option 2: Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to me at the same address. I will send a signed sticker that you can place in the book.

Option 3: Show up at any class or show I will be in next year and I would be happy to meet you in person and sign the book.

Option 4: Stop by my shop in Charleston, South Carolina and say Hi!

This Book Contains:

  • History and background of the acanthus leaf
  • Getting started with woodcarving
  • Process of carving specific details of acanthus leaves
  • Personal stories relating to my life as a woodcarver
  • Step-by-step process of how to draw 13 unique leaf designs
  • Step-by-step process of how to carve 13 unique leaf designs
  • Full-size or scaled template of each leaf design
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Book Review from an Online Student

Your book just arrived. I am speechless; this is like a coffee table book. It is so beautiful!I flipped (gently) through the pages - everything is so clearly presented with a step by step process; I should have no problem at all doing these exercises. I now know what I will be doing in my “spare” time for the next few years, because it looks as if it will take me years to get through this.

Of course we all knew you were working on a book, and that you would be showing us how to carve the acanthus leaf, which is so beautiful anyway, but I never in my wildest dreams expected so much content! How you ever got this done in the time you had is amazing, and knowing you still kept teaching and carving and traveling- my word, you are incredible, Mary! And nothing in this book looks short changed in any way - in fact, it is the ONLY carving book I have (and I must have them all by now) that is so extensive and complete. This book looks as if it took an entire lifetime to put together; there is so much content in it. The photographs are breathtakingly beautiful, and any one of them would be a work of art hanging in a frame on the wall.

But the first thing I am going to do is read the stories… that was a “bonus” I did not expect. What fun!

Thank you, Mary, for writing (and carving and photographing) this beautiful book. I treasure it.

-Joyce Hanna

Book review by Martin O'Brien of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers quarterly newsletter