Luc's Visit From Canada
May 1st, 2014
The hardest part with anything is just getting started. Writing can be the same way. So far it's been that way the three times I've met with Luc Lavoie to carve. Luc is a fellow greenwood craftsmen from Canada who specializes in spoons.
He's french Canadian which is another element that adds to his mystery, and good conversation. We always have a good time hanging out. Third times a charm right?
That is exactly what we thought, and besides was there more infinate knowledge and secrets of craft to discuss? We were here to carve, and I'll never quite figure out why we try to fight it. Or why one bothers to understand it.. or even write about it... Catch my drift?
But it seems like a good intro anyways.
We're still trying to figure out how a good solid "gathering" should function. Seems proper to start by dumping out your best work, as well as your worst work that haunts your mind.
This also brings up a topic Ive never really seen discussed before... Old work.. what to do with it? How long to hold onto it? But I won't ruin the surprise just yet. After getting some talk out of the way, we got right to axe work. We've both honed and pushed our skills & technique far forward since our last meeting. My main focus is axe work, it's all I think about. How much can I carve with just the axe? I push this everyday in my work.
We made a bunch of spoon blanks and the site of he forest being a stones throw from my large shop entrance was too much for Luc. We grabbed the pack baskets, saws, axes and entered the woods from the backyard.
These are the woods I grew up in so I see them differently than anyone ever will. Luc on the other hand looked like a kid at a candy store.
It was just about a week before the spring foliage had sprung. I missed it because I was flown down to Texas to teach some carving technique to some fine folk on a 3 day campout. The first sign of spring, skunk cabbage and some fiddleheads.
Another reason I find it important to communicate with others, especially folks from different countries is gaining "new perspectives". We're put here on Earth for the same reasons, but we each hold a unique perspective to the world around us, and I find that very interesting. Maybe that is why I'm a photographer, a musician, and traditional woodworker? There are stories to record, and everyone has at least a couple following them around. Whether you're recoring it on a canvas, reel to reel tape recorder, piece of acetate film, or wood carving, we want to record so we can remember.
I think that is one of the reasons why Luc wanted to drive over 6 hours to visit where I live. Its funny to think this was supposed to be about Luc but I guess it goes both ways, he wanted to investigate what makes me tick and how to improve what he's doing with carving. I've seen these woods everyday for the last 28 years. But now I can admit, I see it all in a different light. The things that are the closest and surround you seem to fade in the distance, or in other words..we take these things for granted.
So we set out to find my favorite wood to carve, Black Birch - Betula Lenta.
We wandered around a bit past the oaks, the maples, beech, hickory, buckthorn, past the swamps and craggy cliffs and mud. Finally found a really nice black birch with some shape and flow. Luc was interested in making spoons following some of my workflow. I usually work from smaller diamter logs, it's just how I learned to carve. A friend and fellow spoon carver from England called Jon Mac asked me a while back to show where my favorite place is to carve. Ive been having a hard time trying to write a story depicting what's on my mind and sort of taming what Im doing in life into a story, but this is the closest I've gotten.
Carving is great because if you have an axe and knife, and a billet of wood...well thats where you carve. It can be in the garage, living room, bed, a cave, hilltop, in a canoe...it doesn't matter. But I guess to answer his question without being heavy on the philosophical, I like to carve in the woods. Fell a tree, carve it as it is the most fresh. It's fun to do this where the tree grew and stared out at the forest all day until now when it turned into a pile of spoons.
So we bucked up the tree into our spoon lengths and went to find a blow down that was chopping block height. (Please be careful when chopping into fallen wood, you never can tell if something is too rotten or punky! Chop with caution) There is nothing like axing out a spoon blank under the wild forest. The birds seemed to enjoy the rythym of the axe and complimented the beat with their own songs. It's an odd feeling when you forget you are in this place when a friend is right beside you carving. For long periods of time we went silent and tuned into the trees.
This is where I wanted to talk about why it's so important to connect with other carvers. It's not just about sitting around in a circle carving spoons and stuffing your face. It's more than that, it's what is between those lines. Since Luc and I speak different native languages, I tend to listen more. I think that is special, and somewhat 'olde world'. I think of the fur trappers and Native Americans being thrown together in an untamed world and had to do what was natural.Communication, sometime I never stop to think about.
Luc stopping to sharpen his pencil like a lumberjack would.
My first spoon blank.
and three more..
Two of Luc's to the right.
This is exactly how I'd like to teach carving courses and workshops. Bring them to where spoons grow, live. Show them how to gather their own wood safely. I have met a lot of people that could use a lesson or two in tree felling, and what to look for when hunting down the right spoon wood.
After we made our blanks I took him to tour more of my haunting grounds. As a kid I grew up wandering around this hill, I didn't really stick to the trails. That's where people showed up.
I enjoyed feeling like I was exploring new ground, setting the first footprints down. Really I am not the first, but this forest was once clear cut for the giant iron ore furnaces that littered the hills for hundreds of miles making cannons for the old wars. So I may be the first person to set foot on this new forest that regrew itself from nothing. So I showed Luc some of the artifacts Ive found from pre-combustion engine - industrial revolution machinery that aided the farmers up on this harsh mountain top. There is also odd rock formations and random stacks. But my favorite reason for being back here now is I am lucky to have just about any spoon wood I want. There are so many different types of trees, I learn a new one everytime I'm out. Luc just happens to also specializes in tree identification, so I took this as a private walkabout lesson. Worth gold in my opinion. There were so many spoon trees I didn't realize I've walked by a thousand times.
We headed home before sunset to cook some dinner and get so more spoon carving. My friend Bryan wanted to stop by, he's a spoon carver with some new interest in spring pole lathes and basket making. It's good to know so many talented crafts people. That's one of his black ash baskets he made.
A typical night in the shop. Ale bowls filled, some spoon carving, and some laughter. Why would you want more in life? On top of that, you don't have to clean up the mess.
Luc made me this amazing serving spoon. Im blown away, it's beautiful and carved so well.
More black birch carving. It makes the shop smell like wintergreen.
Here is something I only break out on very special occasions. Every year I tap birch trees for their sap. I carry it home in buckets on my back and I brew wine out of it. You can imagine the amount of work, and risk involved with brewing.. growing live yeast bacteria colonies and paying close attention to bubbles and hydrometers for months at a time. So we broke open a bottle and drank from some kuksas I carved. A special night indeed.
The next morning I awoke and couldn't find Luc in the shop. A missing Canadian in a New York forest...what to do?
Well I knew just where to look. I found him photographing the morning light back on the trail. We made some coffee and got to it.
Luc was really enjoying my carving bench that I modified for spoons.
Here are more of my works in progress.
It was odd, we were carving and a bird flew into the shop. So we put the tools down to figure out what to do and BAM! He hit a window trying to escape. Poor little guy was messed up, so I carried him to the woods.
I took Luc to another neat spot in the woods where everything seems to be choked by these vines. I always found it very eerie and interesting.
Later on that day I wanted to take Luc to a very special place I have visited hundreds of times. We're both very interested in Native American culture and this was a place of great importance.
Some grafitti, the oldest I have found dates before the United States became a country.
After we hiked and explored we wanted to sit and carve more of those blanks we made. The sound of the creek and imagery of warriors hiding out in a cave below our feet was on my mind.
As you can see the maple leaf buds haven't even opened yet. Spring was just a breathe away.
Luc's spoon on the right.
Later on that day we had somewhere to be... a local museum I've actually never been to but Luc has told me a lot about this man Sloane. Eric Sloane was one of his heroes, I was a bit ashamed I had never really read up on the legend. It just happens that a week before that another carver Jarrod that I keep in touch with that lives out in Wisconsin told me I should go see this guy Roger Abrahamson, and he was demonstrating bowl carving at this musuem. Jarrod knows his stuff, and I take his opinion and recomendation seriously so Bryan, Luc and I headed over to this museum. I just realized now I have not edited up the photos I shot inside the museum. I think I feel more shame in not ever finding this place that I grew up next to is because everything Im into now, is on display! I could've saved years of ridicule and research if I had known about this place sooner. Greenwood everything!! Spoons, bowls, cups, tools, even plumbing!! Everything I had to learn the hard way before I knew about the books, the forums, and groups of folks already doing this. I thought I was lone fellow partaking in a dead craft. I'll have to post pics of that in a seperate posting later.
So we arrive and immediately I have to strike up conversation with the very tall bearded man who was pumping the lathe to a beat. Little whiskers of wood shavings piled up all around his feet. I don't think he was expecting to run into folks that were as serious about woodworking as he was. Most passers by are tourists visiting this event and sometimes they'll walk away with a bowl. (we hope) But most I think see this as some medieval sideshow, rather than a serious craftsmen making humble 'tupperpware' as he calls it. So I'd imagine it was refreshing to have folks ask more advanced questions and joke around about the trade. What's even more fun was he knew a lot of craftsfolk I keep in touch with like Jarrod.
It's kind of funny posting this article that was meant to be published in May, but life and my muse takes over and things get put on the back burner. Don't ignore or sass the muse... just go with the flow. This is how things work and you don't disrupt them or the muse may never return to grace you again. I mention this because I recently was invited by Roger to come hangout at another local county fair to come hangout. He really liked one of the spoons I carved and wanted to trade me a bowl. This is a huge honor because he is regarded as an expert in his craft, and his name is known around the world. You don't get these opportunities very often in life. I also feel like I made a friend, and look forward to seeing him again. He invited me to bring my tools and chopping block next time. You know I won't pass that up.
I really enjoyed Roger's attitude and style. Some bowl turners can make things so overly complicated and make it even more difficult to understand. Maybe it's a territorial thing? Like golfers... hiding their so called secret techniques. When really... why do things have to be so complicated? Maybe this is just a false front to help make things mysterious, and help to sell more? Roger had the opposite approach. Nothing to hide, he let you climb around his lathe and paw at everything. Look at the pin holding his bowl on... it's not even straight! Some would see this and say shame on Roger but he proved that a lot of this pretty stuff doesn't matter. Your brain will compensate for everything and at the end of the day when you strip away this glamourish alien looking craft.. you're carving a bowl. I bought a bowl because when you invest in someone's carvings, youre really buying a little piece of them. I can get a bowl anywhere, or make my own. But they won't be like Roger's.
It's hard to explain that feeling when you meet a stranger that you sort of know? It's like meeting another musician, you can instantly read someone's body language and know "He's in." or..he speaks my language. It was fun having Luc and Bryan there because at one point they were strangers that I met, and now we're all good friends.
After driving home with a mini ale bowl made of black cherry. We picked up some newly felled Sycamore. That night Luc and I wanted to share a little ritual with you all. This probably will seem evil or crazy to some but it is a healthy practice for a spoon carver. I saved this for last because it is just all around fun. I didn't realize others did this... but I carve a lot of spoons. Sometimes there are spoons that I just do not like, and do not sell. They hang around in odd places and I find them everywhere. These poorly carved spoons haunt me, and I can't get away from the damned things. Apparently I'm not the only one. Luc just happened to bring a pile of defective treen with him. So we would like to introduce a ritual to you all. A healthy cleansing of the mind and soul. Spoon Sacrifice... Can you hear the cries of the spoon? "Noooooooooo....help me..... I'll scoop and shovel food so well!!"
The shop was chilly at night and he said he'd like a fire to carve by. So he starts handing me these spoons that I thought were rather nice actually. Well he had that evil grin on his face, and I kept telling him I know folks who would love these as gifts. I'd reckon most folks would see this as wasteful and "I would've loved that spoon, what the ***@$&@Q$@ hell???!" Luc would not let me keep any because these were not up to his standards and I can understand. Ive taken finished kuksas and chopped them in half for some joy. If you have carved as many things as I have, you can relate to what I mean. Sometimes you have a bad day, and the carving just sucks. If it's not something you'd want to put your name one, then it must be destroyed. Besides, this makes the treen gods happy, and there is one less poorly designed carving in the world. There are a lot out there, trust me!
So just like that...poof! The spoons have materialized into it's newest form, light, heat and smoke. Into the air the smoke rises and will eventually fall back down to Earth and become another part of a spoon tree somewhere out there. It's fun to think about that spoon came from a seed, spent half a century waiting to come out of it's cocoon and be chopped down by an axe wielding maniac and made into a spoon. But for us we don't see this as some evil act, or an END to something. It's cleansing out poor skills at the time, and moving forward to a better spoon. Like I said, if you carve a lot, You will understand.