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Polhavn Woodfabrik is a small, independent woodcarving studio located in the hills above Fairbanks, Alaska, USA. Philip Marshall is the owner and woodcarver. A past geologist and schoolteacher, he started hand woodcarving in 1989 at Fairplay, Colorado, after an inspiring visit to Jack Portice's gallery of handcarved bristlecone pine pieces. Marshall's initial attempts were crude human faces out of aspen.

Realizing the need for formal instruction, he traveled in 1992 to Frankenmuth, Michigan, to study under the late Georg Kielhofer, a professional hand woodcarver trained in Germany. With this visit transforming Marshall's carving awareness, he sought further education under master sculptor Pietro Vinotti in his studio in Walloon Lake, Michigan. Vinotti was trained in Northern Italy and for many years had his own shop in Oberammergau, Germany, center of handcarved wood art for much of Europe. Together in 1994, ‘95, ‘96, and 2000, they have created fine art sculptures ranging from a high relief human portrait to a traditional low relief coat of arms. Exercises included a human anatomy piece and traditional floral moulding. Design, clay maquettes, wood preparation, layout, use of the extensive array of traditional European hand gouges and chisels with mallet and finishing techniques have also been taught.

In 1997 Marshall attended the Geisler-Moroder Woodcarving School in Elbigenalp, Austria, where he was exposed to more of the Germanic planar style of carving completing an Alaskan husky in the round with Gottfried Kaschnig.

A European tour in 1999 included a course at the well-established Hjerleid Vidaregaande Skole in Dovre, Norway, concentrating on traditional Norwegian acanthus carving under Anders Gjorslie. Visiting the famous open-air museum Maihaigen in Lillehammer, and galleries and studios in Oberammergau, Germany, and Ortisei (St. Ulrich) in the Italian Tyrol (and past trips to the well-known Open-air Museum and studios in Brienz, Switzerland), all served to widen Marshall’s knowledge and committment to traditional woodcarving.

Locally in Fairbanks he has studied under professional woodcarver Marianne Stolz, trained at the Bavarian Woodcarving School in Oberammergau, Germany.

The Norsk Woodworks of Phillip Odden and Else Bigton near Barronett, Wisconsin, was the site of the latest woodcarving class in 2003 for Marshall. It enhanced Norwegian-based designs and techniques particularly as they apply to furniture. Harley Refsal of the Scandinavian flat-figure carving school also gave a short workshop. The Midwest trip included visits to Ivan Whillock’s studio and the inspiring institutions of Vesterheim in Decorah, Iowa, and the Swedish-American Museum in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Formal art education consists of courses in Native Alaskan woodcarving under Alvin Amasson and drawing under Heloise Larsen, both at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. Recently Marshall has collaborated with master joiner Andrew Wappett of Fairbanks to decorate some of his cherry and walnut furniture (for a photo see Fine Woodworking, issue 162, April 2003, page 92).

Marshall also practices folkcrafts in wood, such as Swiss chip-carving; building rustic furniture using bent-willow, assorted tree trunks and roots or spruce burls; carving by hand one-piece flowers as practiced throughout the alpine region of Europe; carving Scandinavian-style fans, usually of birds; and Finnish shaving carvings of trees (and animals) called lastukassi as developed by Kauko Rossi of Suonenjoki, Finland. Marshall has taught these techniques to children and adult students in the Fairbanks area at summer and after-school programs.

His work won 1st Place ribbons in woodworking and Native Arts at the Tanana Valley Fair in Fairbanks during 1997.

The artist’s work has been shown at such galleries in Fairbanks as Creations in Wood, the Alaska House Art Gallery and the Artworks. His work is on display at the Denali Center (on loan) and at various commercial locations about town. His work has also been well-received at fundraisers and bazaars for such organizations as the Northern Alaska Environmental Center and the Fairbanks Symphony Association.

Client references can be provided upon request.

Marshall works out of a 20x20 sq ft studio adjacent to his home. It is heated by both a woodstove and a fuel-oil stove. Nearby covered storage allows air-drying of the woods. Wood is purchased locally from sawyers and a vendor, Superior Hardwoods. In the summer Marshall can work outdoors (depending on the mosquitoes and forest fire smoke) in the adjoining level areas.

110-v AC powers the stationary and hand-held power tools that may be required to dress, glueup and roughcut the carvings following initial chainsaw work, if necessary. Shop equipment consists of a Makita sliding miter saw; Jet bandsaw and lathe; Delta tablesaw, jointer and drill press; and Rigid planer. A full complement of electric handtools is available. Once the initial configuration of the carving is achieved, hand tools (including all kinds of planes and scrapers) of traditonal European (Pfeil, Stubai, Hardtmann, Ashley Isles, Sorby and Two Cherries) design are utilized to create the final wood sculpture. Two wooden workbenches, various scupture holdfasts and a shaving mule are available to secure the pieces during work. Artificial and natural lighting permit work at any time. Tool sharpening systems include a bench grinder, wheels with Fischler disks, Stephan “window” wheel grinder, Kock thermal-reactive sharpener, and assorted stones and strops. Surface finishes are designed for indoor or outdoor settings, and to what color, shades and gloss the client wishes. Finishing is performed in an adjacent room with better ventilation, heating and dust separation.

The studio contains a useful reference library for client ideas, photograph portfolio of completed works and a display of selected past work. Visitors are encouraged; please contact us to arrange an appointment.

Marshall was born in 1951 in New York City. He graduated from Collegiate School there in 1969; has a BS (geology, ‘73) from William & Mary in Virginia; a MS (geology, ‘76) from the University of Washington, Seattle; and is a certified (‘86, University of Alaska/Fairbanks) secondary-level teacher in Alaska. Prior to woodcarving, he has worked as a schoolteacher in Alaska and Japan; as a cold regions scientist in Alaska, the Yukon, Greenland and Antarctica; and sundry other endeavors. He used to write travel articles about his mountain climbing around the world, but has now turned his primary attention to woodcarving. He has lived in Fairbanks since 1981. His wife, Jan, gave him his first woodcarving tools for which he is forever indebted! Numerous generations of canine companions have graced his footsteps, currently Tor.