Hi, my name’s Jutta Stiller and I’m a woodcarver and sculptor
I make things that fit into your life so that you cannot remember what life was like before you had them for people who want something a little different from ‘the norm’, something that may not exist elsewhere, something you can’t buy off the shelf.
My work is not art, craft nor design – but somewhere in between.
At college I was told I was too Fine Art for the Craft and Design course, but too Craft and Design for Fine Art. What they said was my work had too much thought, meaning and context to be pure Craft and Design and was made too well to be pure Fine Art.
Suits me, who wants to be the same as everyone else?
Just as my work does not fit snugly into one particular ‘box’, I feel that my dual nationality makes me not fit snugly into either place – in Germany I’m the English one, in the UK I’m the German one. I exist in this special place in the melded middle, neither completely one nor the other yet able to appreciate both sides.
The first question most people ask when they find out what I do is “how did you get into that?” closely followed by “where did you learn that?”. The answer to both questions is both short and sweet – “my Dad”.
“If you have a Reubens or a Rembrandt to frame then come to me, otherwise go somewhere else.”
That’s what my Dad used to say when people asked him to explain what he did and he meant it, he even had Van Gogh’s Sunflowers in his workshop once.
I doubt that I would ever have known of woodcarving, especially frame carving, if he hadn’t have done it for a living. And he would probably never have chosen it if it hadn’t have been one of the only two choices he had where he grew up in the Bavarian Alps (the other option was Ski Instructor).
Both he and his brothers went to the local carving school, one becoming a stone sculptor, one an ecclesiastical figure carver and Dad – on a bet – came to London and became a frame carver. A job that a lot of people don’t even realise exists.
I remember being so excited every time I got the chance to go visit dad at the workshop when I was small. It seemed like such a magical place with all the wood chips and machines and bits of wood all over the place just crying out to be built into ‘things’. I loved it.
As I got older I got the chance to make things that I wanted to at the workshop with dad taking the time out from his own work to help, advise and teach. It never seemed an odd thing to me to have access to such a space, it was only when I got older that it dawned on my that not everyone had the same opportunity. Particularly when my textiles teacher had a go at me for getting my GCSE work ‘professionally framed’.
I learned my carving ‘on the job’ with work that counted to the business with dad showing me what I had to do then it was my turn to ‘get on with it’. I suppose it must be quite rare that all the pieces I learned on were sold and are now hanging around the world
In 2003 I was studying for both an MA and a teaching qualification when my dad was diagnosed with cancer and died quite soon after. I took the, what at the time seemed a simple, decision to take over the business. I was confident that he had taught me enough that I could cope. Though the first ever frame I made completely on my own, a small mahogany flat frame, took me a week to make as I just couldn’t stop my hands from shaking.
I have made an awful lot of traditional pattern carved frames since I started carving, they hang in galleries, auction houses and museums in London and around the world.
More recently I have begun looking at making some stuff that I would like to make rather than always making to someone else’s design. Heading in a more sculptural direction with my love of texture and my eye for shape.
When it comes to my own work I like to make things that the viewer has to work a little to get the most out of. Some people will only see the surface, others will delve deeper, some will miss it completely. I believe that everyone see things differently as they all bring their particular interpretation to a piece depending on how their life experience has shaped them. I love to pull together references from different, often seemingly obscure, sources and areas. I guess you might say that I have eclectic tastes.
I like the way I look at the world, sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the inspiration I find. I have a need to make these ideas into something so that other people have a chance to look, to question, to be inspired or just to like it, or love it, or the biggest compliment of all – take it home with them and own it.
And if they don’t?
Well if we all like the same things life would be very boring indeed now wouldn’t it?
Jutta M Stiller is a wood carver and sculptor specialising in Netsuke and Couture frames click here to subscribe to her newsletter ‘Tales From the Woodcarving Bench’ .