Father of the wooden angels

Father of the wooden angels -

Two wooden angels, 15 metres high, gracefully overlook the landscape around Davos. "They welcome and bid farewell to visitors," explains wood carver Andreas Hofer who erected the two angels at either end of Davos. A difficult undertaking that came to a happy end – like many of Andreas Hofer's 'angel stories'.

"My first piece of work as a wood carver was for my brother's grave," Andreas Hofer tells us. His workshop – a modern, multifunctional wooden hall with windows four metres high – in Davos Frauenkirch is flooded by the sun from all sides. It has that fresh smell of wood about it, there are shavings and sawdust everywhere – and it's a little untidy as you would expect of an artist's atelier.

An accident led to fulfilment

Andreas Hofer is a carpenter by profession. But for many years he was an avid skier: "My parents were farmers and skiing instructors; my younger brother was in the same team as Silvano Beltrametti. Skiing was always very, very important to us." He himself was a skiing instructor and trainer in the Graubünden skiing association. "That was the perfect combination: having fun and earning money at the same time!" But that was when fate struck: when Andreas Hofer fell and tore his ligaments, he had to have an operation; the wound became infected, which in turn led to blood poisoning. "Suddenly the option was amputating my leg – or possible death. In the end, the doctors managed to get rid of the infection and save my leg." But working in his original profession and skiing with an unsound knee was no longer an option. So, in his mid 20s, Andreas Hofer had to go back to square one. When he came across a brochure from the wood carving school in Brienz, it was suddenly clear to him: "That's what I want to do. I can see now that the accident was the key to my fulfilment as a wood carver."

«I can see now that the accident was the key to my fulfilment.»
Andreas Hofer

The angels populate Davos …

Working on a headstone for his brother, who had been killed in an accident, was a key experience for the then budding wood carver: "I found it emotionally very difficult but it was an incredibly important way of dealing with the loss. Since then, I haven't been afraid of tackling difficult tasks," he explains. Soon afterwards, the angels started to appear: after Silvano Beltrametti's skiing accident, Hofer crafted a guardian angel for his younger brother. "It wasn't much more than a column with a head and wings. But this angel meant a lot more to us – it gave my brother inner strength and relieved me of all fear." Further angels were to follow: Hofer erected a four-metre high angel for the WEF Davos as a statement against the riots. Shortly afterwards, he designed the two 15-metre high angels that rise up into the sky at either end of Davos. To erect them, he asked for help from the Frauenkirch military airfield. "That's one of these angel experiences that I have time and again: I asked the air force if they would transport my angels with a Super Puma – and they said: Yes! Although they are not actually allowed to transport things for civilians. But they did it."

… and are multiplying

RhB has also played its part in one of Hofer's angel experiences: "For the angel in Davos Wolfgang I asked RhB – as a naive mountain artist – whether they could help me with the transport. To load the angel, we had to switch off the electricity and so we had to wait until the last train had arrived in Davos. And then we transported the angel and erected it in the middle of the night. RhB provided the cargo engine, coaches and staff." It is one of those anecdotes that makes Hofer believe in society: "When people see a common purpose in something, the possibilities are endless." Although sometimes the opposite is true: ultimately the angel in Davos Wolfgang had to be removed because it offended some people. But that doesn't bother Hofer and his angels continue to multiply. One of them has even flown up to the Jakobshorn: it floated up to the top of the mountain attached to the bottom of a cable car. The twelve-metre-high angel faces south east, towards Georgia, which was embroiled in a war in 2008: "I wanted people to think about those in the war zone and transmit positive thoughts through the angel. Even though it all seems so far away, it still influences our lives – it makes us impervious to the tragedy of small things." Hofer's angels now appear in Zurich, Luxembourg, Sochi, Stuttgart and New York. "I see every angel as a work of art that is spontaneously needed for something – as a sender or recipient of warm sentiments. I don't mean this in a missionary sense. They are meant for people who find some inspiration in them."

Sender and receiver

Hofer's angels are not always the size of the one on top of the Jakobshorn. "After Daniel Albrecht's skiing accident I was asked to carve him an angel. But designing an angel for an individual so that he can feel the sentiments is difficult. So instead of making a large sender angel for Daniel, I made him a small receiving one – a receiver of genuine sentiments. Then it went to Innsbruck to his parents." The angels accompany the wood carver, and never really leave him. "It has nothing to do with religion or being esoteric. But I believe in the power of positive sentiment – and these angels are a tool, a form of mental support. I always make an angel for a specific purpose, for somebody." But it is no longer just angels that come out of Andreas Hofer's workshop. He now also focuses on guardians: dark wooden figures without wings which, unlike the angels, are an earthly protection watching over someone. The sun angels, with their wings splayed open towards the sun, are the most recent members of Hofer's angel family.

A path dotted with sculptures

"Can I make a living from it? Well, as an artist you always need a certain degree of modesty. But naturally I want my work to finance my lifestyle." Which is why Hofer carves busts and other works on request. And he organises the International Sculptor Symposium in Davos. The works of art created during this week then feature on the Sculpture Path, which begins at Andreas Hofer's workshop in Davos Frauenkirch. "This path is a small gem for people interested in culture. Incidentally, the snow-covered sculptures are also fascinating in winter."