In the steps of the Carpenter
by Rosie Schefe
It’s not yet mid-morning, but already a hot sun beats out of the white-blue sky, bouncing around the farmyard and making the long, bleached grass even drier.
Inside the century-old barn things are cooler, the light is diffused and the fine coat of sawdust which covers almost everything somehow blurs hard edges away. The stone walls reduce the outside wind to a gentle breeze in here, making it a pleasant place to sit and think or talk.
This is the Woodenmind workshop, on a seemingly remote farm that is not really so far from the small South Australian town of Eudunda, in the hills dividing the Barossa Valley from the Murray Plains.
No precious, high-shelf keepsake this. These figures are made to touch, to play with, to pick up and move about.
Carpenter Peter Voigt, who has owned this farm for nearly 20 years—almost as long as he’s been a cabinet-maker— describes the farm itself as ‘an excuse not to work’. In the workshop, though, it is obvious that plenty of work is going on.
A computer-guided router and its associated dust-collector hum away at one end, occasionally changing pitch as the drill hits resistance in the piece of wood it is transforming into a series of figures. Peter himself sits on a chair, quietly talking to me, his words accompanied by the constant scratch of sandpaper over wood as he smooths the curves of the object in his fingers.
Nearby, tables and shelves are filled with similar figures in various stages of completion—from fresh off the router to partly or almost fully sanded. Each one has been lovingly sanded by hand; the curving, rounded shapes offer few opportunities for using machine-made short cuts.
Peter is making the figures for a nativity set. Each set comprises fourteen pieces: the baby Jesus and the manger; Mary, Joseph, a shepherd, sheep, lamb and cow; a donkey, a camel and three wise men. The final—and largest—figure is the risen Christ.
No precious, high-shelf keepsake this. These figures are made to touch, to play with, to pick up and move about. They are robust and solid, finished with a skin-friendly coat of beeswax and