`Catalan Craftsman Breathes New Life into Old Olive Tree Wood - Olive Oil Times

Catalan Craftsman Breathes New Life into Old Olive Tree Wood

Feb. 5, 2014
Julie Butler

Recent News

Josep Gasol Pujol

You need to adapt to what’s in front of you.” That’s not Josep Gasol Pujol’s phi­los­o­phy for life, but for wood­carv­ing, and par­tic­u­larly for work­ing with olive tree wood.

For 26 years it’s been his hobby and he shared his flair for it in a free work­shop at the Extra Virgin Olive Oil Exhibition — Fira de l’Oli — held in the Catalan dis­trict Les Garrigues in January.

The trick is to work with the nat­ural form of the wood — which in the case of old olive trees is usu­ally gnarled and has var­i­ous holes, Gasol said. He was work­ing with a piece of wood he esti­mates to be about 350 years old, though it’s hard to be pre­cise as the growth rings of the ever­green olive tree can be hard to dis­cern. It came from the under­ground part of an Arbequina olive tree felled to make way for irri­ga­tion. Where some might have seen only a heavy stump, he saw a reclin­ing woman and has named this demon­stra­tion piece, still a work in progress, Bella’.

A tough but care­ful touch needed

Olive tree wood is so dense it almost doesn’t float in water, so Gasol has to be firm but also fas­tid­i­ous with his chisel and ham­mer because any knots in olive wood come out very eas­ily. He starts by plan­ing the bot­tom of the wood to give it sta­bil­ity then exam­ines its form to decide where to work. When fin­ished carv­ing he goes over the wood with sand­pa­per before apply­ing at least three coats of var­nish, more if the wood is very porous.

Why to fell wood in the right lunar phase

Gasol uses only the slow-grow­ing wood of his native dis­trict Les Garrigues, in the province of Lleida, in inland Catalonia. One of the many rea­sons he loves olive tree wood is that unlike that of other trees, such as pine, it doesn’t expand or shrink much with the weather. He prefers older wood because it is drier and eas­ier to cut and said wood worms, though present, are not a prob­lem if the ancient wood­cut­ter wis­dom of felling a tree only at old (wan­ing cres­cent) moon is adhered to.

Gasol said an olive tree trunk needs to dry out for at least a year before being suit­able for carv­ing. He was work­ing with wood from the large neck of the trunk which lies under­ground and to which the olive tree’s suck­ers and exten­sive yet fairly super­fi­cial roots attach. This part car­ries more mois­ture and needs longer to dehy­drate.

Olive wood also good for heat­ing, cook­ing and kitchen ware

Olive (Olea europaea) tree wood pro­duces a lot of calo­ries when burned and is used by some in the dis­trict to hear their homes. It also imparts a pleas­ant fla­vor when used to cook meat, Gasol said. While oth­ers like to con­vert the richly-grained hard­wood into cut­ting boards, kitchen uten­sils, carved bowls, and fine fur­ni­ture, his pas­sion has always been sculp­ture. He is entirely self-taught, learn­ing about form from mould­ing clay as a child.

Most of Gasol’s carv­ings are com­mis­sioned but he also makes about ten a year for exhi­bi­tions around Spain. One of his works, El Crist del Cantacorps’, was shown in New York in 2007. Each fig­ure, carved in his free time, takes about a month and a half. He is cur­rently work­ing on three sculp­tures to show at the Salón de Arte Antiguo y Moderno in Barcelona next month.


Related News

Feedback / Suggestions