The Woodcarving Studio is the creative concept of Saena Ku.
Based in London, we specialise in traditional and contemporary woodcarving including architectural ornament and figurative carving, letter cutting, restoration works and gilding. The Woodcarving Studio provides a frame by which to draw upon the collaboration of craftspeople and colleagues within the industry to address large-scale projects, whilst at the same time orchestrating a coherent approach to quality and precision of the highest possible standard.
Prestigious past projects within the traditional sector included gilding works at the Tower of London for Historic Royal Palaces, Woodcarving at New College and Oriel College in Oxford, carving and gilding for several London Livery Companies and carving works for the Queen’s barge at the Diamond Jubilee.
Working with interior designers, architects, joinery and furniture–making firms, we are able to deliver projects to a client-specific brief and on budget.
Saena Ku: my story; my craft
I grew up in a part of Seoul near the royal palace and spent my youth wandering through the area’s lavish gardens, drenched in its wealth of traditional architectural forms.
So it seemed natural after finishing my A-levels to go on to complete a two-year diploma in interior design. However, afterwards, despite gaining much from my studies, I immediately realised my true vocation required more than theoretical fluency: I wanted a life with physical praxis – more hands-on.
I decided to leave my native Korea, to learn about and experience other cultures. Greatly attracted as I was to European architecture and design within its specific historical contexts, I decided to head for London: I could improve my English and continue the search there for my future.
When I first came to the UK in 1996, there I wandered the many museums and galleries of central London. One day I walked into the National Portrait Gallery and by chance I saw a special exhibition on picture frames – The Art of the Picture Frame. It was not only the finished frames, but the entire process of making that was explained in the exhibition; what impressed me the most was the intricate craftsmanship present throughout. I marvelled at how each frame, beautifully carved with quietly complementing rhythms and forms, almost completed the painting it surrounded. Here I had an epiphany: I determined in that very instant to learn how to do it for myself.
Learning How to Do It
After much searching, at last I happened upon the City & Guilds of London Art School. Founded in 1876, the school is one of the few colleges still teaching traditional craftsmanship. Here I formally trained in ‘Historic Ornamental Woodcarving and Gilding’, learning the broad accoutrement required to become a professional carver. These included drawing and life modelling to understand the human form; ornament study; mould-making and casting techniques; restoration and conservation techniques and ethics; gilding and polychromy; the history and design of carving in architecture and sculpture. At college I met my German husband studying ‘Architectural Stonecarving’; he then went on to set up and run the successful London Stone Conservation Ltd. We both love London and have ever since made it our home – we are true Londoners now.
Graduating in 2000, I began on restoration projects within the antiques and heritage sector. My skills were in constant demand by antique dealers; nevertheless, I balanced this with simultaneously continuing my own mirror and picture frame restoration projects, which I sold at London auction houses.
The Fine Craftsman’s Life in London
A few years after graduating I took a position at a charity called Poetry in Wood, sponsored by the Spitalfields Small Business Association (SSBA), working with learning disabled adults. This gave me an insight into product design: the process of creating from initial idea to completed and delivered product. So I found my youthful interests return: I started working for fashion and product designers, creating bespoke articles and samples. After seven years working at the charity, I took a position at my British alma mater, City & Guilds, teaching woodcarving to conservators and carvers whilst at the same time further pursuing my career as a self-employed carver. In 2009 I was approached by the Building Crafts College to start an evening class in woodcarving and letter cutting. This was an exciting and unique opportunity to design the course syllabus/structure myself. Part of my role at the Building Crafts College is to represent the college at trade and industry exhibitions; for example demonstrating carving skills at the V&A Museum. I remain teaching at both colleges to date. It is a fulfilling, dynamic and often hectic life.
Engaging with The Contemporary
Over the years I have taken an ever-increasing interest in more modern designs and contemporary carving inspired by my surroundings in this vibrant city with its history, culture and above all its stimulating diversity. In early 2014 I decided to build on my existing knowledge within the profession and to formalise my pursuits to create The Woodcarving Studio. I moved premises and set up my new workshop in Walthamstow in a studio complex with other like-minded professionals.