Posted by: Michael Keller Woodcarving | April 26, 2009

Caricature Carving, An Introduction

You have certainly all seen caricature drawings as political cartoons in newspapers and magazines.  Making a caricature of a real person entails identifying features of the person one can exaggerate.  For instance, today, we see pictures of President Obama with exaggerated ears.  No public figure, and especially politicians are exempt from being “caricaturized” by artists.

The art of caricatures is flourishing in the world of wood carving today but it rarely entails carving caricatures of real people.  More often, a caricature wood carving is simply an exaggerated type of person such as cowboy, etc.  I think all carvers would agree that carving caricatures of real people is difficult.  Below, I have pictured a caricature carving that I did of the actor, Larry Hagman.  Hagman played JR on Dallas as well as an Air Force Major in I Dream of Jeanie years ago.


Larry Hagman

I am not exactly sure where or when caricature carving got started; but I suspect it was in the Scandinavian countries many years ago, particularly in Sweden.  I base my thinking on the fact that there are so many examples found in museums and private collections from Scandinavia.  Also, there have been a number of prominent Scandinavian carvers that immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900’s, each doing caricatures.

One such carver of special note is the late Emil Janel.  At one time, Janel was regarded as the “undisputed master of caricature carving.”  Janel did not call himself a caricature carver; he referred to his style as “exaggerated realism.”  Born in 1896, Janel immigrated from Sweden to Canada in 1923 and on to Seattle.  In the late 1920’s Janel moved to San Francisco where he could make a better living from his carving utilizing San Francisco’s famous galleries.  Janel carved mostly alder wood from the Pacific Northwest and he insisted that he fell his own trees.  His carvings were, for the most part, about 18 inches high if the figure was standing and about a foot high if sitting.  He held his projects in process between his knees rather than to use a vice of any kind.  His carvings are unmistakable.  His style is most obvious.  Before his death at 84, Janel had won world acclaim.  In the future, and as part of this series, I will do an article on Janel and include pictures of his work.

Probably the first American-born caricature carver in the public eye was H. S. “Andy” Anderson.  Anderson was also the first to publish a “how-to” book on carving caricatures.  Anderson was a westerner and he focused his attention on cowboys, their horses, and their life in the west.  By comparison to today’s caricature carvers, Anderson’s work was pretty rough – but quite clever.

A student of Anderson’s was Harold Enlow.  Enlow is living today and is a founding member of the Caricature Carvers of America.  To the best of my knowledge, Enlow has been carving caricatures longer than anyone else of notoriety living today.  Enlow has written several books, produced a number of study guides, and has taught thousands of students.  He has contributed more to the promotion of the art of caricature carving than any other person currently living and maybe ever.

Just over 15 years ago, a group of 10 noted caricature carvers got together and decided to form a closed club dedicated to the promotion of caricature carving.  The group was named the Caricature Carvers of America.  Membership in the group is by invitation only and today the CCA boasts a membership of 23 plus 13 emeritus members.  The CCA today sponsors caricature carving shows, has created a number of truly spectacular caricature projects and raised money for charity.  The groups first project was the Full Moon Saloon, a scene out of the old west.  Since then, they have created many others.  Pictured below is one of my favorite CCA projects, The Woodcarver, which was auctioned off on e-bay.  Proceeds of the sale helped fund the medical expenses of the late Marnie Willock from the famous Willock carving family.  I urge you to visit the CCA’s web site at

The Woodcarver

CCA, The Woodcarver


Caricature carving is probably the most popular form of carving today.  It is more akin to whittling than wood sculpture and one typically uses knives and palm sized gouges with caricatures.  And, it is a lot of fun!  With caricatures, one does not need to worry about perfect anatomy or facial features.  It seems the funnier, the better.

Poker Players

Poker Players

In a 4-day workshop, I completed the above poker players.  There were eight carvers in the workshop and no two carvings looked alike despite the fact that we all carved the same project.  This project was designed by Cleve Taylor who is not only a great caricature carver but also a great teacher.

One of my personal favorite caricature carvings is the Eagle Carver, below.

Eagle Carver

Eagle Carver


In the mean time, stay sharp and be carveful!

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