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Ethics...i'm New Here But...


Jean H

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I am new here and you can all drum me out if you want for stepping over some invisible line on this forum but I have concerns in my own professional life about the materials I use: I need to feel that they are ethically and sustainably sourced.

My carving subjects say a lot about who I am and what I care about in the world, and so the materials I use have to reflect my view of the world too.

Do any of you other carvers worry about where your materials comes from? Ive looked all over and cant find anyone talking about this.

The best thrill I have as a craftsman is to see the ordinary turned into the extrordinary but the skill of a fellow crafsman...ox bone turned into an exquisite leaf...dry old boxwood turned into a netsuke frog.

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Good question! I will be interested to hear from others regarding their choices of materials, including using materials acquired pre and post CITES.

 

My own response to this question has multiple facets. Over the decades I have received many materials as gifts, from carvers and wood workers, from friend's parent's aunt's estates, from scrimshanders, from family via thrift store variety junk collectors' sales.

 

Most wood resources I have no trouble with using and believe that most woods in my studio are not protected species. If I must send a piece abroad I need to know exactly what it is and where it came from, and know its botanical name for the customs check. I'd rather do that research than lose a piece crossing a border.

 

The non vegetative materials, from animals, are the odd gifts that have been given over the years. Some of it is elephant ivory known to be harvested in the mid-1800's, but there is no documentation other than the word of the relative of the original owner. I would likely enjoy using it, but have not since having it from the mid-90's. The odd snooker or billiard ball resides in my closet as well, believed to be old elephant ivory. I really enjoy using mammoth tusk and would very much like using the elephant and scrimshaw ivories, but I have not taken the step because of the complexities of CITES, personal ethical choices, and whether or not the material would be accepted or rejected by a potential new owner.

 

I look forward to members weighing in on this topic.

 

Janel

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post-3644-0-53192200-1364159866.jpg

 

Thanks, Janel,

 

I was worried I'd found a no-go topic! It must be good to chew this over occasionally.

 

I have carved ivory as a twenty year old without a thought in my head so I do know the qualities of this beautiful material but now I can only think of the animal that grew it and its present plight. Ox bone I carve because it has its own beauty and is as plentyful as the beef I eat.

I understand and agree that first nation and aborigional peoples have special rights to their resources where they are managed well.

 

Here is a carving I did last year. Oak from an old bench and boxwood from a piece a freind gave me that was cut in their garden. The copper was scrap from a school metalwork shop where I taught. I was pleased to make something out of nothing.

 

I think we look backwards too much. We can be as skilled as craftsmen of the past but make our own traditions to express our own lives and cultures as they are now...and that might have to include restrictions on materials.

 

Jean

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some stuff i think i would avoid like elephant ivory. the few times that i have been around them i found them to be incredibly inteligent and more human then any other animal so there tusks and bones i have decided on a no go. same for whale never interacted with them but considering how complicicated there language and interactions with each other are i feel like they are too inteligent to make into peices of art work out of. gems or stones i have no concern about using because it is not alive and if it is not carved or used then its just a rock. and tree's while it kills me to see a tree cut down that is as old as our civilization sometimes they have to go but everything i make can come from scrap, end cuts, discount woods, trash finds, ect....any tree that is in danger of going extict i stay away from unless i know that the wood is been harvest long ago. something like ebony i think its a shame to cut down those trees so i can put a small black inlay on a project. i can make my own ebony with vinager and steel whool.

 

mostly i stick with renewable wood, bone, shells, ect.... because they are cheap. i cant afford to buy expensive materials right now so i dont.

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Thanks, Dan, your veiws make me feel more at home here.

 

Being hard up is the greatest discipline for a crafsman: tools will be cherished and scrap materials put to the best use.

 

As a jeweller years ago I was deeply uncomfortable using gold...now at least you can request recycled gold when you buy new sheet and wire. I do re-work old wedding bands for customers which can be fun...a good carat is buttery and soft to work. It is lovely stuff but has driven whole cultures nuts! Give me wood any day.

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I do love animals myself. I also know that when it comes to them, the by far the biggest problem is, alas, not us, carvers. It is the loss of habitat. No matter how good a given country is at enforcing hunting bans, if an elephant or rhino or whatever hasn't got a place to live in, it will not live. The human population of this planet got completely out of control. Same thing applies to forests. It isn't the cabinetmakers that are plundering the Amazonian jungle. It's the farmers burning off the forest, to make way for the hopeless farms to eke out some kind of living. Hopeless, because the soil of the Amazon is completely unable to support the type of farming that it is being converted to, and just dies a few years (that means 2-3 years, yes, indeed) down the way. With the result that large tracts of the Amazonian and Orinoco ex-jungles are now deserts. Not a cabinetmaker or carver in sight at any time.

I think I can't really say more to the point. And I would greatly welcome anyone overturning my opinion by facts.

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Yuri,

 

While agreeing to your point (to some extent), I recently checked the ivory catch by customs through the world and it seems that 2012 has been the worst years since 1989 for elephant ivory, in 2011, between 25000 and 50000 elephants have been killed for ivory and 2012 number is, unfortunately, believed to be way more than 2011, but still no precise figure.

In 1989, before CITES regilation, the elephant population was around 600000 it is now belive to be 472000....

Mainly sold in Asia, ivory has been nicknamed the "white gold" in China (1KG is about 1500€/1930US$/2312$NZ)

Seems also that Narwahla ivory is quite common on the black market as well as Rhinoceros horn...etc

So I think that the biggest problem doesn't exist as such it is rather a combination of problems. But let's face it the real problem is human being ;)

 

Jean,

 

Ethic....I thought it died few years ago ;)

More seriously, I do bone carving but I don't think that the cows (even though widely available) are more lucky than the elephant. For sure, they are not on the merge of extinction, but what kind of life they have for us to have meat and what effect the cow farm have on our environment? For example, what about the corn culture (which is one of tthe most greedy water-wise, whithout even talking about Monsanto GMO corn) development for feeding those cows?

Wood...if you go around the place you live and pick what has been blown by the wind, then everything good, but if you buy from wood seller (wheter exotic or domestic wood), then...

In my personnal opinion, I think it is rather hard to find material which are 100% ethically correct, except those you collect yourself. I try to pick as much wood as I can from my surrounding (and I mean lying on the ground wood, not cutting fresh tree), I try to gather bone from naturally dead animal (not always a pleasant experience), but I must confess ;) that I do have some ebony, pink ivory and also some bone from the butcher.

I think that this topic brings out questions which are much more complex than whether carver ask themself if they are using ethically and sustainable materials....

 

Also, it has been mentionned whale ivory, if it comes from stranded one I guess we can safely say that it is ok to carvet, now, if it come form japanese whaler (supposedly for scientific studies.....which as everyone knows is BS), well you get my point ;)

 

Ultimately I find it quite difficult to be righteous in a fu...d up world, IMO obviously. Doesn't stop me from trying my best.

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They are off the hook. It's just not simple to tell mammoth apart from elephant ivory, that's all.

 

Back to what I wrote. I am fully aware that poaching has gone up, and it's not doing any good to the species concerned. It simply is another subject, while of course tied up with the fact about loss of habitat. The very sad fact is that even without any poaching at all, the way populations are growing, habitat is on the way out. Without curbing humankind it's impossible to maintain natural environments. By the way, even poaching can be related to population growth, very simply: more people = more demand for illegal products.

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Hi Jean,

 

I think that the type of carver found in this community is most likely to be mindful of where the material comes from. There are factories that make hundreds of copies of carvings carved from ivory in the east, ivory is highly valued. I also think the origins of materials change according to region, it is not the hobby carvers that really fuel the illegal ivory trade; majority of us are small scale carvers who do not work in quantity but quality.

Most of us, I believe, have reputable sources to obtain our materials but that is not to say a black market trade does not exist everywhere because it certainly does.

 

That being said, I like to steer clear of elephant ivory myself. Just a personal aversion... I have carved a few whale teeth that come from a reputable and limited source, though. It is a tedious material! But very beautiful.

Good question! :)

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  • 2 months later...

Honestly I think it depends on the carver and how they feel, me I havent touched this egg simply because i see way more value init as a whole rather than art. Technically its so low a grade its worht is maybe five dollars on the market. To me maybe i put in a sentimental value as priceless wonder of creation. But needless to say I find the oddest of things I find bones all the time (carcauses) some from poaching, some from accidents, some just part of natural selection. I have a deep respect for life and death and yes even put myself at risk turning in a poacher. It does not nessecarily deter me in what i pick up to add art to or make from. I truely hope that when a client makes a purchase of the art they put in as much value in the life it once held as I do. If you are at peace with the work and art You are probably ok, chances are your not buying in bulk amounts ivory tusks whale bones or what ever you may be useing...and since most of you have been carving for sometime on such materials you automatically know if its newly accuried or found and has aged for sometime.

where i am from there are many avid hunters some strictly for trophies some for food some just for "sport". I have come across animals without the ears and tails some with the feet cut off some just simply destroyed...and my heart hurts, i have to explain to my children and see them sad. I understand that maybe i put to much value on "Pests" i dont agree with the obvious mutilation of such creatures pests or not. I know some people take certain parts of the animal because of a bounty...i understand that i dont have to like it and i think there are better ways to leave the remains.

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I agree bonnie I have no problem hunting its not necessary for me since I have a grocery store down the street but in the U.S. white tail deer populations need to be constantly thinned out or else every 5-7 years they would overpopulate, eat all plants and eather get sick or starve to death leaving there bodies to rot and spreading disease as well as eat all the crops in the area. what bothers me is the hunters who shoot the deer and just take the antlers leaving the rest of the dear to rot.

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I have no problem with the use of any material once the animal has died of natural causes or any type of farmed animal or tree. You are welcome to my bones if you are so inclined. if self collected you could determine the efficacy. I understand the trouble the authorities have with determining the history of a piece of ivory, horn or bone so they ban them totally to protect the live animals, I see that as sad and wasteful but necessary.

 

I also love working with rocks and am always concerned about the environmental impact of the mining of those rocks. Fortunately for me many of the semi-precious stones are in very small deposits and subject to micro scale mining so the environmental impact is very small.

 

David

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  • 2 weeks later...

There is of course another thing regarding our carving substances. I use stones picked up from off our local beaches for carving. There are some people who place a "religious" significance to these pieces, and would berate me if they saw me taking these stones. I believe that that these stones can be used for my work. I don't sell them ( not yet a good enough carver)and return the unused (and pieces that I don't want) back to the collection area. Why should I be made to feel guilty for someone elses beliefs?

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