Traditional alpine woodcarving (Senntumschnitzerei)


Description

In Appenzell and Toggenburg, traditional alpine woodcarving, also known as ‘Chüeli’ (small cow) carving, developed in the 20th century. At the beginning, artisans almost exclusively carved figures related to Alpine farming, including goats, goat herders, dairymen and dairymaids, cows, farmers, Bläss (Appenzell mountain dogs) and Lediwagen (horse-drawn wagons). Later on, other motifs based on customs and everyday farm life were added, such as the New Year’s mummers, ‘Blochfahrt’, string music, dance groups, chopping wood or cheese-making.

Woodcarving started out as a pastime for farmers during the long winter months, when they carved toys for their children or scenes on their ‘Chlausenhauben’ (headgear worn by the local mummers); for many people, however, it has now become a lucrative side business. The carvings have become popular collectibles.
The artisan first saws out the shape of the figure, then carves it with a knife, which is often customised to the artisan’s needs. The artisan’s partner often helps with painting the figures, which are up to 15 centimetres high on average, or takes over this task entirely.

A growing number of woodcarvers, both men and women, are keeping this traditional craft alive, adding their own personal and distinctive style. Most of these artisans have not taken the popular ‘Chüeli’ carving classes, but are self-taught.

The distinctive personal style of individual woodcarvers differs greatly from the commercially available figures from companies using the Brienz woodcarving style; some of these figures draw on Appenzell themes but they are mass-produced and cannot be compared with the individually handcrafted figures depicting alpine farm life.

Image gallery

  • Cow and alpine dairyman with yellow trousers, carved in 1894 by Johannes Müller (1806–1897) (Stein, 2015) © Hans Ulrich Gantenbein
  • Alpine transhumance, carved in 1953 by Alfred Forrer (1885–1988) (Stein, 2015) © Hans Ulrich Gantenbein
  • Detail of an alpine transhumance, carved by Maurus Matter (1894–1991) (Stein, 2015) © Hans Ulrich Gantenbein
  • Alpine woodcarver Heinrich Müller (1918–2005) (Urnäsch, around 1982) © Herbert Maeder, Fotograf, Rehetobel (Kantonsbibliothek Appenzell Ausserrhoden)
  • ‘Rüef de Bruune’: 148 cows from different types of wood by Heinrich Müller (Urnäsch, 2017) © Walter Frick
  • Alpine woodcarver David Locher (1915–2003) (Speicher, around 1982) © Herbert Maeder, Fotograf, Rehetobel (Kantonsbibliothek Appenzell Ausserrhoden)
  • Alpine woodcarvings by David Locher (1915–2003) (Speicher, around 1982) © Herbert Maeder, Fotograf, Rehetobel (Kantonsbibliothek Appenzell Ausserrhoden)
  • Model of the Urnäsch parade by Emil Hugener (Urnäsch, around 1990) © Herbert Maeder, Fotograf, Rehetobel (Kantonsbibliothek Appenzell Ausserrhoden)
  • Hat with bells, replica of a group of mummers; the miniature figures on miniature hats and hoods take just as much time to produce as the miniature mummers; carved by Markus Koller (Herisau, 2009) © Markus Koller
  • Konrad Zülle (1918–1988): New Year’s mummers (Appenzell custom), undated, wood, painted, various materials, H: 13cm © Museum im Lagerhaus, Stiftung für schweizerisch Naive Kunst und Art Brut, St. Gallen, Sammlung Mina und Josef John
  • Jakob Müller (1922–2005): People’s Assembly, 1993, wood, painted, on wooden plate, 29 × 80 × 76cm © Museum im Lagerhaus, Stiftung für schweizerisch Naive Kunst und Art Brut, St. Gallen, Sammlung Mina und Josef John
  • Ulrich Bleiker (1914–1994): Alpine transhumance climbing two winding paths, around 1979, reinforced cement, 120 × 88 × 75cm © Museum im Lagerhaus, Stiftung für schweizerisch Naive Kunst und Art Brut, St. Gallen, Sammlung Mina und Josef John

Video

Der Senntumsschnitzer Samuel Frick (Urnäsch, 2005) © Esther Ferrari, Schnitt Walter Frick

Der Senntumsschnitzer Emil Hugner (Stein, 2013) © Esther Ferrari, Schnitt Walter Frick

References and documentation

Publications
  • Bruno Bischofberger (Text), Roland Reiter (Aufnahmen): Die Schnitzarbeiten mit Sennischen Darstellungen. In: Volkskunst aus Appenzell und dem Toggenburg (Sammlung Bruno Bischofberger). Zürich, 1973, p. 170-191

  • Herbert Maeder: «Chüeli»- und Senntumschnitzerei im Appenzellerland und im Toggenburg. Ein Bildbericht. In: Heimatwerk, Nummer 2. Zürich, 1983, p. 1-43

  • Herbert Maeder: Senntumschnitzer. In: Schweizer Familie, 22. Februar 1984, p. 10-13

  • Brigitte Schmid-Gugler: Es ist wie Gemüserüsten. In: Ostschweiz am Sonntag, 7. Januar 2015, p. 19

  • Marcel Huwyler: Emmi schnitzt ihre Heimat. In: Schweizer Illustrierte, Nummer 14, 7. April 2017, p. 48-58

Documentation