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carved wooden bracket

bracket. A piece, or combination of pieces, of wood, stone, or metal, triangular in general shape, and either plain or ornamented, usually projecting from, or fastened to a wall, or other surface, to support shelves, statuary, or other objects. — Webster, 1882

“Woodworkers’ Guild to have China Shepherdess Bracket Exhibition and Sale” – Some day soon, please!

Wouldn’t it be great if the woodworkers’ guild in the De Smet area – or perhaps a high school shop class or two near a Little House site – decided to distribute copies of the description of Ma’s “wooden bracket” from Little House in the Big Woods, let people carve a bracket based on their own interpretation and skill level, and then have a showing of all the results during a Laura Ingalls Wilder event?

Over the years, I’ve asked a number of people to just sit down and sketch (even if they swear they can’t draw) what they think Ma‘s wooden bracket looked like. I know what I picture when I read the Christmas chapter in Big Woods, and no drawing I’ve seen has come close.

The wooden bracket is not something that any of the sites have tackled as far as an item to sell, and as near as I can figure, the only illustrator brave enough to tackle it has been Doris Ettlinger in her very cute “lift the flap book” titled Laura’s Christmas, published in 1998 by HarperCollins. The image shown here is Ettlinger’s, and while she captured some of the elements of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s description, she did miss the fact that Laura said there were three pieces, meaning only one support holding the curved shelf in the middle. Is Ettlinger’s bracket anything like “yours”?

Driving across country several years ago, I read the Christmas chapter to my husband, and we discussed at length what we each thought the bracket looked like. At the time, I only wanted to hand-carve my own bracket someday, and while I really had in mind to use an X-acto knife instead of a jack-knife like Pa, my power tool loving husband thought I might have fun learning to use a dremel, so I’ve spent the past year learning my way around with the one that showed up under the Christmas tree that year.

What picture of the bracket does Laura paint for YOU in Little House in the Big Woods when you read the following:

…Every night [Pa] was busy, working on a large piece of board and two small pieces. He whittled them with his knife, he rubbed them with sandpaper and with the palm of his hand, until when Laura touched them they felt soft and smooth as silk.

Then with his sharp jack-knife he worked at them, cutting the edges of the large one into little peaks and towers, with a large star carved on the very tallest point. He cut little holes through the wood. He cut the holes in shapes of windows, and little stars, and crescent moons, and circles. All around them he carved tiny leaves, and flowers, and birds.

One of the little boards he shaped in a lovely curve, and around its edges he carved leaves and flowers and stars, and through it he cut crescent moons and curlicues.

Around the edges of the smallest board he carved a tiny flowering vine.

He made the tiniest shavings, cutting very slowly and carefully, making whatever he thought would be pretty. At last he had the pieces finished and one night he fitted them together. When this was done, the large piece was a beautifully carved back for a smooth little shelf across its middle. The large star was at the very top of it. The curved piece supported the shelf underneath, and it was carved beautifully, too. And the little vine ran around the edge of the shelf.

The manuscript for Little House in the Big Woods, by the way, describes the bracket a little bit differently. In the manuscript, the back piece reaches “way above and below the little smooth shelf,” and the shelf is cut through with “crescent moons and stars” instead of curlicues.

The bracket doesn’t appear at all in Pioneer Girl (neither does the china shepherdess, for that matter), and the fact that it only shows up on typed pages inserted by Rose in the Big Woods manuscript makes me wonder if the whole idea of the little china woman and her handmade display shelf weren’t inspired by something Rose saw during her travels in the years leading up to the Little House books? Or perhaps she was thinking of something she had her mother had seen at the Panama-Pacific Exhibition in 1915?

The group of “carved wooden brackets” show a sampling of many that show up on internet auction sites over the years.


bracket (BW 4; LHP 18; BPC 17, 37-38; SSL 30; LTP 2; THGY 19)
     Pa makes wooden bracket for Ma (BW 4)
     bracket lamp (LTP 19-20), see bracket lamp