Wood carving

Wood carving has existed in Central Asia from since time immemorial. Articles made of wood are widely used by Kyrgyz people in everyday life till present time. There is a stylistic connection between wooden works and other kinds of craftsmanship, particularly with items made of felt and leather. Carved and painted wooden articles, patterned felt works and mats, embroidery and Kyrgyz crafts perfectly fit the interior of the yurt – the nomads dwelling. They form the central part of the shelter while at the same time, form amazing pieces of art that manifest the pleasing and aesthetic taste of the people who created them.

Woodcraft was connected to the needs of Kyrgyz nomadic life. They used wood to make the frame of the yurt, and its door and jambs. They also made wooden household items and decorated them with carving and painting.

The frame of the yurt wasn’t carved, but its lattice called "kerege", and the bottom poles of the dome called "uuk", were carved and painted with a blue or red color. Sometimes the doors of the yurt and dismantling entrance doorframe comprised of two sides were also carved and painted.

The following household articles and kitchen utensils were also carved and decoratively painted: juk stands were they put felt carpets and linen; small trunks for flat bread called ukok; poled pegs for clothes and harnesses called ala bakan; saddle pommels called aiyurmach; containers of pialas called chyny kup; stirrers for kumys called pishkek; soup ladles called chomuch; and wooden candle stands called chyrak paya (which now have not been used for many years).

Wooden articles were made by male woodcraftsmen called Djigach Usta. Wood carving technique was very simple. Different species of trees were chosen by firmness and elasticity: birch, poplar, willow, juniper and walnut. These trees were easy and soft enough to carve with well-sharpened tools.

The following tools were used for carving: a small adze – kerki, was used for working up boards and hollowing wood when making large patterns; a cutter similar to a chisel; a wooden hammer; and a special knife with a curved edge.

After trimming the wood, a craftsman would rub it with a row sheep’s liver and soot. Then he would draw a pattern with chalk and carve it with a knife. The pattern was then painted with a red color made of red clay.

It is said Djigach Usta tried to work without any drawing or stencils. The patterns were passes from generation to generation. Having learned the patterns in childhood craftsmen reproduced them by memory adding or varying details as they wished. However, some craftsmen used stencils made of horse leather. Natural materials were predominantly used for painting, particularly chalk and a clay of different colors. These materials gave the wooden works a softer and warmer look.

The pattern of wooden articles is marked by laconic clearness and simplicity it is based on precise and rhythmical repetition or interchange of separate or adjoining motifs, which are never interlaced or laid on each other. The carving is made based on the principle of looking-glass symmetry and the succession of some elements of the pattern. The main pattern is a classical horn-like scroll.

The carved pattern of wooden bread containers called ukok, is very similar to pattern of felt carpets and overhead bags called ayak kup. The carved pattern of ukok is very rich, and includes an interchange of double horn-like scrolls called kochkor muyuz, with winding rosette in the centre. The rosette served as a charm to protect from bad luck. The monumental and relief carving technique and the equilibrium and laconic brevity of its components increase the similarities between wooden and felt works and make the similarities visible.

Ukok is located in the women part of the yurt, behind a pattern screen called Ashkana chiy. In the kitchen one can see a rich collection of wooden articles made by Kyrgyz craftsmen including wooden dishes, plates and other kitchen utensils of all possible shapes and types.

Craftsmen aspire to display the richness of simple materials like wood by processing it in a different ways. Numerous examples exist among the articles of everyday nomadic life.

As a medium, wood had its advantages. Craftsmen were able to reveal both its functional and aesthetic merits while using archaic and simple shapes.