Duplicarved And Hand Carved Question

This is a conversation that I thought was very interesting. I was asked if a duplicarved head was considered hand carved. Well……I guess it all depends on where you end the duplicarved process.

You see with the duplicate carving machine if you change out the blades progressively to the finest detailed blades, it will carve a perfect copy and then you can not call the product hand carved as it was all done with machine.

Now when we talk about ventriloquist figures everyone thinks about the golden age makers. We know that Marshall had 14 duplicarver heads that he used to create his many characters. But Frank was smart. He did not have any of the masters in his shop nor did he have the machine there.

He would rough out a head and then do all the finish carving by hand. This did in fact save him a monumental amount of time when it came to production. Frank was able to say hand carved because he did in fact do this carving.

My conversations with Bob Isaacson, who spent much time at Frank’s shop, has confirmed the fact that he never saw the master heads or the duplicarver.

Ken Spencer certainly used a dupicarver as most of his figures all look alike. He really didn’t take a lot of time to change the look of his faces. They were machined to the point that all they needed was sanding. These are considered hand carved today but in reality……

Today Conrad Hartz is still carving a basswood ventriloquist figure totally by hand. Mallet and chisels do all the work. He is popping them out much more quickly since his retirement and it is always a treat to see his newest character. I love that he uses the look of the Marshall figures.

Also Brant Gilmer, Pastor Scott Bryte, James Manelli and Austin Phillips are carving figures totally from scratch. So there is a small throw back to the old school alive and well today.

Please leave your comments below…


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Ventriloquist Central is the brainchild of Dan Willinger and Steve Hurst. Dan is a ventriloquism enthusiast and ventriloquist figure collector. He has been collecting for over 25 years. He created the Ventriloquist Central Collection. It now has over 100 ventriloquist figures and over 50 of them are Frank Marshall figures. Steve is a ventriloquist as well as builder of ventriloquist figures. He also has a background in sales, marketing, building websites and computers. Because they both love the art of ventriloquism, the website Ventriloquist Central was born. For more information about the website, go to: http://www.ventriloquistcentral.com

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9 Responses to Duplicarved And Hand Carved Question

  1. Austin Phillips says:

    Frank Marshall definitely used the duplicarver to his advantage. Using this as a time saver, but at the same time doing the detailed work on the heads resulted in how quick frank could turn out figures. Definitely taking the world of figuremaking into a true business, and figuring out the most efficient way to pump out “one-of-a-kind” handcarved figures.

    This brings up another topic of what people want to buy. Do people want to buy figures just because the medium is wood? Or because it’s hand carved? Look at Tim Selberg, for example, you can get some figures in the same face, wooden or other composition. Wood being more expensive, possibly more heavy, and pretty much the exact same face. Not knowing for sure exactly what Tim’s process is, but a business man like himself, I’d assume its very similar to frank marshall. It comes down to time consumption, what makes the most sense for his business, and quality of the product. Tim obviously does amazing work, and most of this is due to his “uniformed” craftsmanship. Every figure meets the same exact standards as the next, with not a lot of exception. This bringing up the point of do people care about if the head is duplicarved or hand carved from scratch? Or do people just like the idea of having a true wooden figure?

  2. Ray Guyll says:

    Every once in a while I do carve a head. I just love working with wood. I’ll send in some photos tonight.
    If I had time I would do everything in wood.

  3. Dennis Hall says:

    Really good question. When I first started carving , all I had was a hatchet for rough shaping, one gouge , a couple of chisels and a pocket knife. The first time I heard of a duplicarver , I was a little surprised . I wondered if that was still considered carving.
    I thought if you weren’t getting splinters and blisters , then you weren’t carving. I also thought no power tools should be used. Over the years I started adding power tools, like a drill and a table saw to make things easier and quicker. Then more recently , I got a band saw . I’m sure there is a wood carver out there somewhere , who thinks using a band saw is cheating, even though I still do the majority of my carving with simple hand tools. So I guess it does really boil down to how much of the carving is duplicarved and how much is hand carved.

    • leedean says:

      I may have erred on wood Guyll figures, as some of them may not be wood. I had this thought to share. As Marshall used a duplicarver, there is not much difference in that to Guyll using a mold. Each system has a matrix or master head. I had never thought about it that way, and no matter how much finishing Marshall did on the duplicarved piece, it was still a duplicate of a sort.

  4. David Boiano says:

    I’ve never seen anything that said Ken Spencer used a duplicarver. Just because his figures look alike really doesn’t prove that. As you mention, Conrad does all his by hand, and all his cheeky boy figures all look alike, basically Charlies or Jerrys, so there’s an example of why you can’t assume Ken used a duplicarver.
    I think for myself, I think more in terms of being “woodcarved” more than “handcarved”. I like things made from wood, and of course, when it comes to vent figures, there’s that whole thing of the classic figure being carved from wood, etc., when I have a wood figure in my hands, I’m not going to care if it was duplicarved, or done completely by hand.

  5. Scott Bryte says:

    I think that much of the appeal of a hand carved dummy is it’s uniqueness. The less duplicating there is, the less that dummy will look like any other, even by the same maker. A dummy that is totally unque, is also totally yours. No will ever come up to you at conVENTion and say “I have that one too!”.

  6. Wes Mullen says:

    I have been working on a basswood head for a few weeks now. I am using a clay to wood procedure. I am most definitely in the rough stage but using a lot of Dremil. I guess my question is is that another category of work? I have no intention of selling my only purpose is to say that I did carve it.

  7. Matt Kimbro says:

    Wood, urethane resin, fibreglass resin, 2-part epoxy putty, paper mache’, wood dough, etc, etc. They’re all great mediums for characters. Whether Guyll creates a character in wood, or cast from a mold you know the attention to detail is going to be amazing from the character concept, to final execution. The medium he utilizes is simply the outlet by which he manifests his artistic vision. The medium is truly inconsequential.

    In my opinion Frank would have been the same legendary figure maker had he chosen paper mache’ as his medium, like his peer Len Insull, or anything else. Marshall had a vision of what his characters were going to look like, and those designs were incredibly innovative (Nosey). He was also concerned over the functionality and handling characteristics. This trait of striving towards perfection, his definition of perfection is what ultimately brought him so much success, if not in the way of money, at least in the way of legend.

    In my opinion those exact same statements could be applied to the McElroy Brothers, Ray Guyll, Tim Selberg, and all of our other greats.

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