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The tradition of carving in Ahrntal valley


Due to its remote geographical location, the Ahrntal valley remained a high valley untouched by external influences for a long time. Due to poor road conditions, transport and sales difficulties for the farmers' products and the resulting lack of cash, farmers in the Ahrntal valley were largely forced to provide for themselves. Agriculture and local crafts were the livelihoods of the population. 

Every farm had a special room (called "Machkammer") equipped with various tools, which were used to produce household and work utensils. Many farmers owned beautifully situated alpine pastures on the northern side of the Zillertal Alps, where their cattle grazed throughout summer. Shepherds had to keep an eye on the grazing cattle, but since this was a rather boring task, they tried to pass the time with various games and activities. Since each shepherd carried a pocketknife with him, it was only natural to carve various grimaces and masks from the surrounding roots and wooden sticks. The carvings were brought down to the valley together with the cattle in autumn and then hung up in the farmhouse parlour. 

Already before World War I, tourism was slowly built up in the Ahrntal valley, but it was interrupted by the time of the war and fascism. In the 1950s and 1960s, the situation calmed down and tourists slowly started to come back to the Ahrntal valley, and some of them started to buy these original carvings. Some resourceful farmers recognised the opportunity and started carving to gain an additional income. The now 80-year-old "Motzile-farmer" Hermann Reichegger states that the devil himself appeared to him while he was carving a devil mask, and since then he has known exactly how such a carved devil mask should look like. Primarily, masks with faces of witches and devils as well as suns were carved. The sun can now also be found on the advertising brochures of the Ahrntal valley and has become, so to speak, a seal of quality of this natural and unspoilt holiday region. 

A carving school was established in St. Jakob/San Giacomo in 1973. In the beginning, there were only 15 students, and the only available room was the "Pfarrschulhäusl", which first had to be cleared out and equipped with workbenches, tools and pine wood. Since there were no trained carving teachers, local artists had to perform this task. Teaching materials were also almost non-existent. Therefore, models from farmers and the church were borrowed in the beginning. From the second year onwards, a trained sculptor ran the carving school. In 1986/1987, the carving school was moved into a new building next to the primary school in St. Jakob/San Giacomo. 

The training of a carver comprised three years of full-time school. In addition to the compulsory subjects, freehand drawing, modelling, carving, technical knowledge - wood (with carpentry practice) and art history were taught. More than 300 students graduated and became restorers, cabinetmakers, painters, carvers, sculptors, and artists. 

There are still many artists and carvers, who live in the Ahrntal valley, for example the sculptor Klaus Steger from Prettau/Predoi or the carver Klaus Kirchler from St. Johann/San Giovanni. Furthermore, there can be found two carving workshops, namely "Südtiroler Kunsthandwerk" with the associated crib museum "Maranatha" in Luttach/Lutago and the arts and crafts shop "Tiroler Holzschnitzerei" in Luttach/Lutago. 





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