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Candle Factory - John Schirmer - Elferdinck

The Elferdinck Project - Wood Carver - John Schirmer
John (below) shown carving the "Rocking Horse" on December 17, 2009.

John Schirmer Elferdinck - 2009

Rocking Horse

The Village Elders under The Candle Factory's Christmas Tree

John Schirmer - Elferdinck Project - Candle Factory - Traverse City -

"The Teacher"


John Schirmer, born in Saginaw, Michigan, was living in the San Francisco Bay area in the late 1970s, following his graduation from Western Michigan University, when his interest in sculpting began to bud.  He brought that new-found interest to Northern Michigan’s Leelanau County and began earning a living carving wooden signs for area villages and businesses, including The Candle Factory.  In 1984 Schirmer was commissioned to perform a December “Christmas” carving for The Candle Factory, in near-by Traverse City, over a week-long session.  The subject selected was “Elferdinck’s Wood Carver”, a 55-percent of human-scale rendition out of a fictional tale about a man living in Leelanau County, a lumbering region, in the last half of the 1800s.  In the story, Elferdinck, as an old man, began carving figures of “The Village Elders” of his youth, situated in the high remote mountains of Graubünden Canton of Switzerland, around 1830.  Schirmer has returned to The Candle Factory each December since that time to continue the project through week-long carving sessions.  “The Village Elders” grew to seven figures, and this was followed by a large personal altar-piece triptych.  The most recent piece, shown here in color, is “The Teacher”, where Schirmer is shown refining the final features of this double-figure piece in December 2007.

John Schirmer

"The Woodcarver" - First in "The Village Elders" series



Schirmer has been living in Fairfield, Iowa, since the mid-1980s, yet makes the trip to Northern Michigan each December.  In Iowa he maintains a studio where he continues his carving, focusing on woodprints which he displays at art fairs across the U.S.  Schirmer’s website can be reached at

While all of the other objects comprising The Elferdinck Project are of a personal nature, being taken from the old wood carver’s life experiences, the current carving project involves a child’s rocking horse. Schirmer began the carving last December from a huge block of Michigan white pine, having revealed a rather rough form before last year’s session ended. This year, beginning on the 15th under The Candle Factory’s traditional 17-foot Douglas fir Christmas tree, the features of the object will begin to be refined toward its final form. This will be the 26th annual celebration, in an unchanged setting, of this Northern Michigan tradition.

The tale of “Elferdinck” is a creation of The Candle Factory, and presently exists in written form only to serve as a compass in the telling of the story through Schirmer’s hands.  The viewer is asked to imagine discovering a long-forgotten carving shed deep in the woodland overlooking Grand Traverse Bay.  Peering through a weathered pane of the window, one sees a shadowed-lined interior, with a simple fireplace, a wood carver’s bench, and a display of the figures and panels of Elferdinck’s creation.  The story unfolds out of the interest and the mind of the viewer; gathered from the objects existing the day Elferdinck left his wood carving shed for the last time, on a winter day in the late 1880s.  This was the time when the lumbering was savaging the beauty of his adopted home, and Elferdinck, in old age, reflected upon memories of a childhood lived in a village where society was governed by their love of tradition, and change was a stranger.










John Schirmer - The Candle Factory - Elferdinck Project  

A "Village Elder" - 1987 Record-Eagle Photo
John Schirmer  

"The Cabin Boy" - from "The Village Elders" series
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