Woodcarving is one of the most widespread and famous examples of the plastic art in Bulgaria. It is connected with the beliefs, rites and customs of the Bulgarian people as an inseparable part of the traditional lifestyle and daily round. Woodcarving refers to artistic woodworking through involving the carving of decorative motifs and images. Its heyday was during the 18th and 19th centuries when craftsmanship and architecture flourished in the Bulgarian lands. Woodcarving finds application in the church architecture and in the interior church decoration – iconostasis, pulpits, doors, etc. Thanks to it lots of homes and articles of the style of living have been turned into real works of art.
There are two types of woodcarving:
• "Pastirska" (shepherd's) – fine and shallow carving, predominantly consisting of geometric ornaments – dots, circles, arcs, rhombs, crosses; most commonly carved with a knife.
• "Marangozka" – artisan's, deep sculptural carving
Three different woodcarving schools emerged in Bulgaria during the National Revival period:
The Samokov School is easily recognized because of the variety of combinations of motifs featuring plants, birds, fantasy creatures and human figures.
The carvers from the Debar School created open-work, three-dimensional carvings. Their biggest achievement is that their compositions are dedicated to man and his way of life.
Plant motifs are the favorite ones among the masters from the Tryavna School: flowers, branches, vines, oak leaves, as well as the sun – a symbol of the spark of life. The master carvers worked with walnut, linden, alder, pear, oak and poplar wood. Sometimes they mixed the different materials to achieve the natural play of colors in the wood. They used chisels with different blade profiles depending on the motifs they were carving.
Anton Nikolov is a successor of the traditions of the master craftsmen in Tryana and he is the winner of the 2015 Masters' Competition in Woodcarving at the Ethnographic Open – Air Museum "Etar".
Anton was born on July 12, 1967 in Sofia. In 1986 he graduated from the National High School of Applied Arts in Tryavna, specialty "woodcarving". He worked as a woodcarver and carpenter at the Specialized Museum of Woodcarving and Iconography in Tryavna for more than 20 years. There he met a person who influenced significantly his professional development – Georgi Raykov. He taught Anton to be consistent in his work and to pursue his goals diligently – from the initial concept to the completion of the project.
There were master craftsmen in both his father's and his mother's families. His son Ventsislav is also following in his father's footsteps.
Anton's favorite material is basswood, but walnut is the most typical material used in his art. Its hardness and resilience can convey through the centuries the beauty of Tryavna's artistic woodcarving.
Anton Nikolov created the carvings on the door of the Ritual Hall in Tryavna Municipality, the ceiling in the reception area of "Fenerite" Hotel in the village of Kmetovtsi, the iconostasis in the chapel of the village of Raevtsi, Elena municipality.
One of his biggest challenges was the participation in the wager contest of the master woodcarvers from Tryavna, which took place in 2007 in the chambers of Kalincheva House as a recreation of the legendary wager between master Dimitar Oshanetsa and journeyman Ivan Bochukovetsa for the decoration of the ceilings in the house of Hadzhi Hristo Daskalov.
Anton Nikolov regards winning the grand prize "Silver Cowbell" in the Masters' Competition in Woodcarving at the 13th International Fair of Traditional Crafts at the Ethnographic Open-Air Museum "Etar" in 2015 as his biggest achievement.