Spoonfest 2012

I recently returned from a wonderful, surreal and truly inspiring event; the first international festival of spoon carving and a celebration of the carved wooden spoon.  Hosted by Robin Wood and Barn Carder it was held in a field in Edale up in the peak district.  Many of the worlds most talented spoon carvers and traditional crafts people were there to hold workshops and share skills over the weekend.

So much happened over such a short time, it’s almost impossible to know where to begin. There was a fascinating talk by Jogge Sundqvist from Sweden about his work and inspiration and a workshop of his about knife techniques. Numbers were limited on his workshops so I felt very privilaged to be one of the lucky ones.  Jogge’s father is Willie Sundqvist, the man who has inspired so many people around the world to start carving spoons, largely through his book ‘Swedish Carving Techniques’, but also as a result of travelling and teaching the skills which he feared were in danger of being lost.

Jogge speaks and teaches with real passion and an enthusiasm which is infectious.  He taught thirteen knife ‘grasps’ or grips most of which were familiar to me but a few which were completely new.  It was good fun to try to understand these more complex techniques and interesting to observe some of the most experienced spoon carvers in the country getting to grips with them too.  Here is Jogge wearing his trademark leather apron, showing Robin Wood how the crossed thumb grasp is executed.

It was useful to learn how Jogge teaches the basic grasps, especially from a teachers persective as I’m always looking for the best ways to help people on my own spoon carving workshops understand the basic foundations of knife-work.  We made ‘nothing to do sticks’, which Jogge explained were what hunters would do in Sweden while sitting round a fire.  They’d take a stick and whittle nothing inparticular, just practice various techniques and grasps.  When the stick is so riddled with curves and notches that it’s use has come to an end, it is thrown in to the fire.

Jogge gave a talk to the entire gathering on Friday night about his life and work and the tradition of folk-craft in Sweden and shared a very personal insight about a sort of alter-ego which his daughter helped to manifest when he decided to play a joke on her one day.  He’d made a three legged stool from twisted wood which was in a style unlike anything he’d made before.  When his daughter saw it she asked him who had made it.  Jogge thought this was a very strange question as his daughter knew he was a craftsman and she’d always seen the things he’d made in his workshop, but he decided to go along with her and told her an old man had man it.  She asked what his name was and Jogge told her a man’s name which was a common name in Sweden, (something like ‘John Smith’ in this country).  She asked where the old man lived and Jogge told her he lived up in the mountains.  His daughter seemed fascinated by the stool this mysterious man had made and started drawing pictures of the old man and all the animals he kept up in the mountain.  She showed Jogge the pictures.  In time Jogge started to feel that she was describing a sort of alter ego of his, and then he himself started to wonder what sort of craft items this old man in the mountains might make and he started to get new and radically different ideas and designs for carvings and furniture.  He began to feel that the craft tradition to which he belonged had kept him working in a particular way,  but now the ‘burden’ of that was now growing lighter; he described feeling as if this imaginary old man had showed him a little door in the wall of tradition and a key which could unlock it and so open up to these new possiblilties and design ideas.  Jogge has since developed a vibrant and very contemporary, unique style; still rooted in the tradition to which he was born but with a gift for taking it in a new direction and moving it forward. He told us about a phrase in Swedish which is translated as ‘Not Un-Crafty’, which is how craftspeople there refer to themselves in a way which enables them to remain humble.  I loved that. He is a very succesful and professional craftsman and a real inspiration.

Other highlights for me included two workshops held by Janharm Ter Brugge from Belgium, one on carved engraving and the other about making small scoops from thin branch wood.  These are the two little birch crooks which I carved my scoops from.

And this is Dave, a very likeable spoon-mad character I met who kindly offered to hold our finished scoops for a photo.

Janharm is a great teacher.  Here he is demonstrating how he uses a frosts 106 for fine engraving on his spoons while Steve Tomlin and Roger, my friend from home look on with interest.

Janharm carves beautiful spoons.

Seeing Stuart King’s mind-blowing collection of spoons from around the world was very interesting and he had so much to say…I could have listened to him for days.  Martin Hazell gave a talk about a hermit monk who lived in the year 1007 and carved spoons as part of his spiritual practice. I observed a demo by Jarrod Stonedahl from Minnesota on how to make knife sheaths from birch bark and how to harvest and split spruce roots.  There was a workshop on axe work and good posture by Fritiof Runhall from Sweden.

My friend Terence McSweeney delivered a talk about  ”Exercise, Posture, and Ergonomics for the Passionate Spoon Carver” during which he shared valuble information from his work as an Osteopath on how to use posture to avoid injury and transform carving in to a form of good excercise.

There was a spoon carving session on the last day where 150 spoon carvers, (people who’d never carved a spoon before and experienced carvers), all sat together and took part in what was possibly the worlds first spoon carving collaboration; all working on one spoon for 5 minutes then passing it on until we each had a spoon to take away which had been worked on by everyone else. Sean Hellman was there too, and held workshops on how to axe out a ladle.  Steve Tomlin ran workshops on how to improve your carving.  Mike Abbott made an appearance too, albeit briefly, to demonstrate how to use a shave horse to carve spoons.  Barn and Robin were busy, busy, busy…running workshops and keeping everything working logistics-wise, along with lots of willing helpers from Edale and beyond.  To top it all, through the entire weekend everybody was friendly and the atmosphere was as good as it ever gets at a gathering, everyone chatting and sharing together.

I did take some spoons with me to sell in the spoon shop and I’m very glad that some of them have now found new homes.  Here they are, on the right, next to Jarrod’s spoons which are to the left of the line.

There were so many beautiful spoons on show, but of them all there was one that I really wanted to buy and this ties in with one particular highlight for me which was meeting Jarrod Stonedahl from Minnesota who is a fellow pole-lathe bowl turner whose work I admire, (as well as being a very talented craftsman who teaches a multitude of traditional craft skills). His spoons are a great example of what can be achieved when someone has spent many years developing an intimate understanding of natural materials and the tools used to work with them.

I noticed that all of Jarrod’s spoons in the shop were selling fast so asked him if I could have one that was in the gallery.  I was very pleased when he suggested doing a trade instead of using money.  He’s written a very interesting post about an unusual system of trading which takes place at the Lake Superior Traditional Ways Gathering which he helps to organise.  Read about how the Trade Blanket works here.

So he chose one of my spoons and I got this beauty to keep as my new favourite breakfast spoon. Here it is doing what it’s supposed to do.

The spoon Jarrod chose is this oak spoon which I carved a few weeks before spoonfest.

During the weekend I bumped in to Orlando and Jo who make greenwood-working things happen at Abney Cemetery in London.  Orlando was carving a rather large spoon…

While I was setting out my spoons for sale I met a lady called called Bobbie who had some nice things to say about my work.  I asked her if she was putting any in the shop but she only had one or two with her and didn’t want to part with them.  I asked to see them and was taken by how delicate and graceful they were.  Turning one of them over I was suprised to see ‘Amersham’ written on the back of the handle with a pryography pen.  I thought that was a nice touch; writing where the wood had come from, and it turns out that she actually lives in Amersham too which is just a stone’s throw from where I live.  Small world! Here is a side profile of her graceful spoon which I liked.

It was brilliant to meet so many people who are all mad-keen spoon carvers, from all over the country and some just round the corner.  I love the idea that there are all these people tucked away, far and near, quietly contemplating spoons.  We’re either all mad or we’re the only sane ones!

Perhaps the real stars of the entire festival are these fellas.  The beautiful logs and branch wood which allow us to indulge in this fascinating craft of spoon carving.

And the two people who were behind it all…

Barn ‘the spoon’ Carder, seen here doing his favourite dance, the Twca Cam shuffle..I really liked the minutes silence Barn called for at the opening ceremony of the festival, just before Robin declared the festival open by cleaving a log, ‘for all the little bits of wood that are not yet spoons’.  He’s such a card(er).

…and Robin Wood, seen here posing for the camera and looking slightly mad in the midst of all the excitement…

I kept bumping in to a guy from Minnesota over the weekend. It wasn’t until the end of the last day that I saw his work in the gallery and was really blown away.  His work is exquisite. He’s called Fred Livesay and here’s a snap to illustrate what I mean.

Edale is a very picturesque spot and the campsite was nice and peaceful.

I met Nick, (above with the dreads chatting to Roger), who I’d spoken to online about bowls as he’s another keen bowl turner as well as a great spoon carver.  It was good to meet him in the flesh and although it was Spoonfest there were a fair few conversations about bowls.  In lowered voices of course.

I’d better stop here as this is turning in to an epic post.  Perhaps I’ll revisit some of these things in more detail later in other posts when I’ve nothing else to say.

Roll on Spoonfest 2013!


14 responses to “Spoonfest 2012

  1. Excellent account, Sharif, including aspects of the great lecture that I didn’t pick up on. I am also very happy to include one of your spoons amongst the inspirational spoons we bought by Fritiof, Jogge, Jarod and Alistair Dorgue. For me , it is amazing seeing Robin being taught a new technique!

  2. Fantastic writing about spoonfest Sharif. And beautiful fotos. I got home safe yesturday and find myself in shock by spoonfest and all marvellous fellows I met. Overwhelmed bu this magic wooden spoon share I am very happy I did manage to sit down whitteling in a group a few hours on friday and whith Barn on friday night before business came across. From now on I will see oak crucks as spoon possibilitys.

    • Hi Fritiof. Yes it was a magical event for sure. Thankyou for raising my awareness about bodily movement which is having a great impact already. Thanks to you and Terence I’m sure that lots of people will benefit from less discomfort, more energy and be able to carve even more happily for even longer. I’m glad you found some time to sit and carve before the work started, and I know you worked very hard. Thanks for helping to make it such a great weekend. Please come back and visit us again soon.

  3. Lovely write up Sharif, was good to see you and to share so much with so many spoon nerds as Jogge likes to call us. Love the pic of me and Jogge that’s the sort of pic you never get to take yourself, would you mind if I copied it. I have nice pics of me learning from Wille, be nice to have one of me with Jogge too.

    • Hi Robin, yes I’ve seen a very nice pic of you with W.Sundqvist. You’re welcome to copy the one of you and Jogge. Likewise; good to see you again….and here’s hoping there’ll be many more gatherings of ‘spoon nerds’ in the future.

  4. Great post – I missed spoonfest due to moving from Yorkshire to Hertfordshire that weekend (I wonder whether I might be close to where you live; I’m just outside Watford). I have been on a couple of Robin’s courses (I wrote an article about one for Living Woods mag), and will definitely be at Spoonfest 2013!

    • Hi Raph, I’m not too far from Watford. Seems the email address for you that’s listed here isn’t working for some reason. Do get in touch via email or FB and drop by sometime.

  5. Awesome post–sounds like quite a good time. Would love to make it to Europe some day. I wonder if there’s enough spoon nerds America yet?

    Also quite happy to see someone else is carving Oak–it’s such a beautiful wood.


    • Cheers Mark. I think there are plenty of ‘spoon nerds’ in America, met some great ones at Spoonfest. It’s a bigger place though so maybe spread more thinly than here on this little island.

      Was a joy to work with oak, although there was a fair bit of uneven grain through the log.

      Hope to see you at Spoonfest 2013.

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