Stories of the Zillertal tradition
Thomas Rauch has a unique talent for an ancient craft: he turns deer antlers into beautiful little pieces of art. Here, he talks us through his method.
"My passion,” says Thomas Rauch, smiling, “is something that has been a part of our alpine region for hundreds of years.” In the past, lumberjacks earned extra money after a hard day‘s work in the forest by carving edelweiss flowers. For Rauch, this delicate craft is a hobby, too – but one with very special meaning: for him, carving represents a wonderful combination of tradition and a love of nature. “There is nothing more amazing,” he says, “than sitting at my work table with a glass of red wine and my tools, my gaze wandering to the beautiful valley every now and then, as the sun sets outside and the radio plays softly in the background.”
Rauch, who is from Schwendau, has “always enjoyed” carving, though in the past he worked with wood. That changed when the passionate hunter discovered some impressive antlers one day on an inspection round of his reserve. “That gave me an idea,” he recalls. He took the antlers home, experimented a bit with the new material, and was fascinated. Today, Rauch is a master of his craft – deer-antler carving. And he is the only person in Zillertal who creates truly wonderful and precious objects out of antlers.
Craftsman Thomas Rauch
For this kind of work, one needs a lot of patience, according to Rauch, plus “dexterity and a little creativity”. So, once he has finished his day’s work, he likes to saw, file and drill. To do this, Rauch retreats to his own little workshop. Countless antlers lie around in this room, and the wooden walls are filled with chisels, knives and pliers in different sizes. But, most of the time, the carver uses small electric drills to carry out his work. “They look a little bit like the ones at the dentist’s,” he says, smiling.
Moments later, a buzzing sound fills the room as a deer antler is turned into an edelweiss flower. The hand movements that Rauch has taught himself are small and loving. Now, he is using the drill to mill a fine outline into one of the flower’s leaves. Rauch must ensure he doesn’t make a mistake at this stage; he must concentrate, because “otherwise you’ll damage the flower”. Some projects take the carver up to three hours to complete. But the results of his work are strikingly beautiful, and every object is unique.
From a love of nature. In order to carve a copy of an edelweiss flower – a rare composite flower in the Alps these days – the carver only uses the white, inner part of the deer antlers. The “burr” – the lower part of the antlers – is used to produce belt buckles, glass decorations and key chains. “Naturally, for all my work, I only use antlers that the animals have already shed,” Rauch says. “That usually happens at the end of February.” This means that no doe, no chamois and no deer has to suffer. “If they did, I wouldn’t feel good about it. After all, I don’t want to harm our nature and its animals here in the valley; I want to preserve it.”
Images: Sorin Morar and text: Boris Hächler
Zillertal magazine Summer 2017
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