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Thursday, August 4, 2016

Bookmark and ShareNorwegian Wedding Spoons



A while back, I was fortunate to receive a lovely set of antique Norwegian wedding spoons from my friend the renowned spoon collector Norman Stevens.  I was immediately fascinated by them and set to work making a copy.  They turned out to be a lot tougher to make than I had thought and it took several attempts, much cursing and stomping around and a fair pile of wood before I mastered the trickier of the skills needed to carve one of these beauties.

Once I felt that my work was decent enough to show on my website, I put up a photo of a nice little set and was astounded when they sold almost before I'd had chance to close the computer!  That encouraged me to make another set which also sold quite quickly and with that, the die was cast.  Since then, the word seems to have gone out, especially among the Norwegian expat and descendant community in North America and I have become something of a 'go to' guy for Norwegians looking to reconnect with an aspect of their wedding tradition.

As a Welshman struggling to keep the lovespoon tradition relevant in our modern era, it has been both heartwarming AND frustrating.  Heartwarming because the Norwegians seem to treat their traditions with much more interest and respect than many of my fellow Welshmen so it is nice to see something which was dying out being welcomed back again.  Frustrating, because as a non-Norwegian who can't speak the language, it means I am dependent on the generosity and kindness of Norwegian speakers to fill me in on the details of this lovely tradition.  I have been very fortunate to have received LOTS of helpful information from the Norsk Folkemuseum in Oslo and from the Vesterheim Museum in the United States.  Both have helped me access pictures of original spoons and have filled in some of the blanks around the cultural practices involved with Norwegian weddings and wedding spoons.


From what I have been able to gather, the spoons were brought out on the second or third day of the marriage 'ceremony', during which time they were used by the wedding couple to symbolically share a first meal as man and wife.  It was a more solemn occasion as a small parade of relatives, accompanied by a fiddler, would deliver a bowl of porridge to the seated couple.  The couple would then use a bowl each to eat at the same time, the chain joining them both as they ate and as a pair.  The ceremony also saw the young woman's social status be elevated from 'girl' to 'housewife'.  Maybe not something to look forward to today, but back then, a significant change for the woman.


The spoons are a challenge to make.  The chain link is all carved from one piece, so it is time consuming and fiddly work.  Contrary to the internet legend, I have yet to discover an antique set that was carved handles and chain from a single piece of wood.  That would be a MAMMOTH undertaking and one which you'd have to be both brave and very, very lacking for things other things to do with your time.  Every example I have seen has the handles and chain carved separately and then carefully joined to make the joint as invisible as possible.  Unless you are prepared to pay several thousand dollars for a spoon that would otherwise cost 300, don't make a big deal out of it all being carved from a single piece.



There is a significant amount of work goes into each chain and this has an effect on the final price of the spoons.  A simple set with an unadorned chain (as in the first of these two pictures) can sell for about 250 USD.  When the chain gets the X treatment, the spoons go up to about 300.  If you get fancy with adding balls in cages etc., the sky is the limit.


The spoon bowls would often be decorated with delicate Kolrosing.  In this technique, a finely etched line is filled with coal dust or coffee fines to bring up the nice detailing.  I use a penetrating oil on mine to give a soft brown line and to avoid the hassles of dust working itself into places it is not wanted.  Some of the Kolrosing on historical examples is a work of art in its own right, but many have a simple floral motif such as the one seen above.


In our more modern times, it is possible to 'play' with tradition a bit.  To this end, it is possible to make traditional wedding spoons which perhaps aren't so traditional.  In this example, a very traditional Norwegian design forms the top handle and a traditional Swedish design the bottom handle.  Made for a Norwegian/Swedish (with a hint of Irish in the mix) wedding, the spoon retains a very tradition feel but becomes more relevant for both bride and groom.


Taking things a step further, the couple's passions become the focus of the design.  She is a marine biologist and he a keen astronomer and they are represented by whimsical designs based around those themes.   The chain links are more sculptural and 'modern' in form to keep with the contemporary feeling of the spoons.

Finally, a very beautiful Welsh take on the Norwegian tradition has a very masculine Welsh dragon shielding an initialled love heart, while the other handle is a very feminine bouquet of lily-of-the-valley.  A highly decorated chain joins the two halves.

Although many of the traditions have changed and the meal ceremony probably never happens any more, the spoons are commonly used for the matrimonial couple to enjoy that first piece of wedding cake together.  (although the spoons are delicate, so I don't recommend any cake fights!)

Monday, January 18, 2016

A New Year and New Ideas

Bookmark and ShareA new year has arrived and it has only taken a couple of weeks for all my resolutions and plans to go out the window!!
I had intended unveiling a new webpage....which I haven't even begun designing yet.... and had hoped to be well underway on an exciting line of Scandinavian style spoons for my Nordic clientele.
Alas, the best laid plans and all that!!

I still plan to get all that done, but as with so many things, I don't know when!

In the meantime, I am busy writing a couple of articles for the excellent UK magazine Wood Carving. It is always exciting to be given the opportunity to pen an article, but I'm always very nervous worrying that I will be able to convey the information I want to describe in a way that is lively and engaging.  Ultimately, the goal is to pass along some of my hard-won experience and not to bore people to death.  Everything I know came at a price...often a very hard price...so being able to help others find the smooth path and avoid the pitfalls is a very satisfying thing!!

It is my hope that I can continue to push the boundaries of love spoon design while retaining tight contact with the venerable traditions of this rich craft!  Sometimes it frustrates me that the world of collectors and arty types pays such little attention to what I and other love spoon carvers are creating, but I take great pleasure from the joy my spoons elicit from those who receive them!

As I do every year, I will bemoan the state of my finances at tax time, but I can never deny that the happiness my spoons bring to my clients is at least some compensation!

With luck, I shall receive some commissions that push both my imagination and my technical abilities and with even greater luck, I shall be able to respond with more lovely spoons!

As always, my best wishes and heart felt thanks to everyone who has supported me over the years and to those who will come along in the future!

Here's to 2016!!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Another year!

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Another year has shot by before I even realized it.  I haven't done any blog posting, but have kept myself busy researching and writing a number of articles on European 'lovespoon' carving for the excellent carver's magazine, Wood Carving.  It was a LOT of fun finding out about the various woodcarving cultures that were prevalent throughout the continent and the UK during the period of approximately 1625 to 1914.  In fact, it came as something of an eye-opener for me to learn that so much romantic spooncarving went on in places other than Wales.

One thing I did take away from it all was that despite being a complete failure as a businessman and 'established artist', I am doing the spoon thing completely right!  I have avoided the urge to mass produce for lower costs and quicker turnaround.  I still make them all one at a time, entirely by hand, using the most basic of tools in my own little hovel of a shop.  Almost all of my spoons are made to commission order and are deeply personal to their recipients.  Even the spoons I make 'on spec' are explorations and experiments in design and are created to be meaningful interpretations of lovespoon tradition.

I'll never be picked up by any galleries and no 'serious' arty farty types will pay much attention to what I do, but that's A-OK with me.  My customers love what I make for them and that is good enough for me!!  Although I sometimes I feel like I am watching the death throes of romantic carving and can't help but be depressed that there isn't more appreciation for handwork and the individuality of fine craft, it only takes the exuberance of one ecstatic client to convince me that lovespoon carving is good and the right thing for me to do with my life.

So a big thank you to everyone who has supported me along this little lovespoon journey!  I hope you have had an excellent year in 2015 and I look forward to more experiments, disasters, and successes in 2016!