Wood carver, nature lover, and bookseller, Jade Lobenstock’s main aim is to make people smile.
by Gay Liddington
At ten years of age, a friend gifted Jade Lobenstock a wooden Buddha which stands four centimetres tall. “As you can see, it has a well-rubbed tummy and a well-kissed head. I’ve carried it around for 39 years. I think that’s where my love of wood came from.”
Wood carver, nature lover, and bookseller at ps: Books, I met Jade at her Maleny home. As I followed her down a path to the studio, images of Jade’s carvings that I’d seen on social media came to mind. When she opened the door, I expected to see wise and wonderful creatures like those who came to life in the 1986 film Labyrinth. I was not disappointed.
Wooden rounds in various stages of ‘life’ on the workbench beckoned to me for closer inspection. Beaming faces caused me to smile, while others with half smiles and closed eyes wished to be recognised.
Jade Lobenstock, of Austrian heritage, was born and raised in the Adelaide Hills by a single mother who encouraged her daughter along a creative path.
“Mum, now a watercolour teacher, has always been creative. When I was a child, she’d leave me little notes that had drawings around them. Art became part of my soul.
“I grew up in a blended family. Everybody created art or made music. In the 1980s, we lived in this tiny cottage where there were always parties with people drumming and playing acoustic guitars and singing. You never knew who would be on the lounge room floor when you woke up.”
Unlike in previous decades, when girls were educated mostly in Home Economics, the 1980s saw an increase in females studying Manual Arts subjects.
“At high school, I mainly focused on art and photography but also attended woodwork and metalwork classes. That time also taught me that girls can use power tools and that sort of equipment.”
On arriving in Maleny in 2002, Jade Lobenstock worked as a picture framer. “Mum had a picture framing business and taught me the craft. So, I already had this skill to bring to town, and everything fell into place.
“My next job was at the David Linton Gallery. I’ve always been a good drawer, and one day, while sanding and oiling breadboards, this little piece of wood stuck its head up and said, ‘Excuse me’.
“I picked up a file, started drawing a face. David saw what I was doing and said, ‘You need chisels’ then generously gifted me a set of chisels. I slowly worked away, and a character revealed himself out of the wood.”
Jade had created her first sculpted face, which I likened to a forest being with its nose growing upward to resemble a tree, and leaves sprouting from its mouth and eyes.
“When I worked at the gallery, a customer wanted a particular carving done. David said, ‘Jade can do that.’ I wondered if I could, but came up with a design. It was my first major piece of work. I gained a lot of confidence knowing I could sell my creations.”
In 2014, buying a house with her partner gave Jade a space which validated her art and helped grow her confidence.
“The shed was one of the reasons we bought this place. It had no doors and was open, but we built these barn doors to make it like a proper studio.
“At the time I thought, I’ll just tuck into the corner but I’d go to the Maleny Wood Expo, get the ‘turning blanks’ which are already cut into circles, and gradually took over the shed. I thought it would be an occasional thing, but it calls to me.
“I finish work at the bookshop, come home, then come straight down here until it’s dark,” said Jade, her voice tinged with excitement at the thought.
Zen Men, circular faces sculpted from turning blanks, have become a theme in this artisan’s design portfolio. Each requires 30-50 hours of work.
One year, Jade’s artistry was acknowledged when she was invited to enter a wood sculpture in the Wootha Prize. “It was an honour for my work to be up there with the masters. My piece sold and the woman who bought it became a collector of my work.”
Perusing the studio, an unfinished artwork caught my eye. It was different from the rest, as it resembled a forest. Jade enlightened me. “It’s just the end bit of a friend’s kitchen bench. I studied it, trying to see how I could make a face, but it kept saying, ‘Actually, we’re trees’.
“It was supposed to be my entry in the last Wootha Prize, but I had to go to Adelaide on a family matter. I’m going to put a mirror at the back so you can see yourself in the forest behind the trees and find serenity in the reflection.”
Jade’s future aspirations include being able to sculpt full-time, have an exhibition, and to teach others how to carve, particularly women. She will focus on creating online classes so they’ll be accessible to people wherever they live.
In conclusion Jade said: “My aim as an artist is to make people smile, and the main message behind my art is that we need to keep thinking about the earth, remembering the serenity that comes from sitting in nature. It brings joy to your soul.”