The carving trade (such as wood carving or stone carving) has an old saying—“carvers are starvers”—indicating that its workers are not well paid. “Carvers are starvers” has been cited in print since at least 1987. The authorship of the saying is unknown.
House & Garden
Volume 159, Issues 1-6
“You know what they say,” he told me, “carvers are starvers.” And he listed a catalogue of woes awaiting anyone who embarked upon so dubious a pursuit: poverty, obscurity, sore muscles, and all the rest.
Grinling Gibbons and the art of carving
By David Esterly
London: V & A Publications
There is an old saying in the trade: ‘carvers are starvers’.
David Western’s Portland Eisteddfod Lovespoon
Friday, February 24, 2012
Carvers are Starvers
There is universal truth in the old pronouncement, “Carvers are starvers”, especially as it applies to woodcarvers! Although Riemenscheider and Gibbons spring to mind as examples of woodcarvers who enjoyed great success and recognition for their art, they are a rarity and don’t accurately represent the legions of craftsmen (and more recently women) who toiled away in obscurity.
Posted: 16 Oct 2012, 14:53
Post subject: Re: Has woodworking always been well payed
Worth remembering that in the mid to late 19th century, a 70 hour week would have been regarded as normal, with overtime worked on top of that sometimes. Mealbreaks would account for about an hour a day, making that about 64 actual working hours a week. Wages varied between not much and starvation. Working conditions could be pretty basic, as well - one old reference I saw to the terms and conditions for employment of draughsmen in Robert Stephenson’s Newcastle locomotive works allowed the drawing office a fire in winter, but the draughtsmen had to supply their own coal.
Some trades did better than others. There is an old phrase, “Carvers are starvers”, which perhaps suggests that wages were even lower for some branches of the trade.
Re-Creating The ‘Lost Carving’ Of An English Genius
Published: January 06, 2013
by NPR Staff
Carving is a lonely profession.
(David Esterly, in an interview—ed.) There’s a saying in the trade: Carvers are starvers. Because carving is such a time-consuming activity. And most professional carvers, when they look at Gibbons’ work — which is such high relief, and the excavations are so huge and the undercutting is so radical, and the surface detail is so fine — they see this as a shortcut to starvation. So I was just about the only person doing this kind of work full-time, for a living, from scratch. It was a small field then, and it’s a small field now.