Maybe we'll call it the North American Treen Alliance

It's not really the name but an idea. A gathering of like minded treenfolk, on the same mission, on the same hemiphere of thought. I have been talking to a lot of people about organising a gathering of this type for quite some time now. The idea popped in my head about three or four years ago when I taught myself how to carve with an axe and started carving my first cups and spoons. After hearing for the millionth time that what I do is strange and interesting,  I wondered if there are any other 'lost souls' out there that have this odd obsession with making things utilizing your natural surroundings. I imagined it would be such a great time: camping, bonfire, the chatter of axe and billet, the laughter. Could this happen? How can I find others that think like me? I asked around for maybe a year or two and got no answers. No one knew you could use greenwood to make just about anything your mind can conjur up. I found out that in Sweden there were a couple of well known wood carvers (Sundqvist family, Friotof, Magnus, and others) still fighting to preserve a rich history in crafts. After more research I heard it was a growing scene in Britain as well. Infact, I got really hooked on the idea of spoon carving after talking at length to Jon Mac.  So maybe I wasn't such an oddball afterall? The more I did my slueth work on this craft, the more I found out that each country has a hanful of dedicated folks who have such high spirit for what we're doing. In America we have Langsler, Follansbee, Jarrod, for the bigger names in the community, but who else here did this? Some makers are just quiet and humble, so they go unnoticed because they're not loud enough, or just don't care to spend the time to share their craft on the internet. How can we find them? Community is the big word I'm try to get at here. For years I felt a bit reclusive with my craft. In New York, just about any kind of blade is looked at as a weapon or illegal so I had to do my crafts away from the public.  Carving kuksas and spoons was misunderstood by most, and seen as a dying art by almost everyone I talked to. "Can you actually eat with that stuff?!?"  Some asked how I learned, and I just told them curiosity and growing up in a forest. I didn't know there were people teaching this in far off lands, or writing books about it years ago. I just kind of stumbled upon it and it's basically taken over my life. Now I realize that there is a community of people doing just what I'm doing. Making, educating, learning, sharing. It all feels very medieval and it's very exciting. I joined a woodsman forum years ago to learn more about living off the land, and then found a social network where carvers can just be thrown into the pit to critique work, share ideas, give strong opinion, sell and trade tools, or even as simple as using the network to get numbers and call out to people to connect. Well my long ramble is coming to it's next turn in the road. With that little brief history of how I got here..      I found out there were actually a couple of people within 100 miles or so that have been carving, or have wanted to learn more after following what I  have been doing from the sites I write on. I met Luc Lavioe at John Dunn's house in Cold Spring, New York over the summer as an ice breaker. John is a bowl turner and Luc is a spoon carver from Montreal, Canada.  -Lets cook food, talk our faces off, and carve some trees.- That was the idea. It's very exciting that this is one of the first times in history that craftsfolk that are isolated from eachother can actually connect via internet and talk with other makers on an instant daily basis without leaving their home. Very sci-fi! We had phones and fax before, but this is more than that. We can share photos and videos right from our shops. I have noticed a huge surge of interest in the craft, and more and more people are subscibing to websites and social media groups involving the craft. Very fun times really. Who would've thought an axe, a knife, and a tree could bring so much joy and peace to groups of people. It's basically free too... where else can you get that? Well  the first gathering wasn't enough, it was just a small taste of this grand idea I had of a community. So I talked to a friend from that woodsman forum, because he gained interest in carving last year and we've been talking about hosting something together for a long time. Well last weekend we decided to make it happen. Oliver had us stay at his farm in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains . We wanted to do a small test group trial run, which is why I called it "Experiment #1.  Another New Yorker named Lewis Ward drove down from Ithaca to be part of this as well. He has been making spoons since the 1970s along with all sorts of different wood craft. It was a diverse group of people with completely different styles and opinions, yet we got along as if we knew eachother for years. We used this opportunity to talk about having more large scale gatherings, and not just having it in the same place time after time. For my own personal craft, I'd like to have a 'touring workshop' I guess you could call it. Travel to the people interested. Luc and I talked extensively about North American designs because it seems some cultures aren't really focused on much. You see that the majority of carvers focus on British and Swedish designs and elements. I am one of the guilty carvers that has an obsession with the Swedish side of carving. Maybe it's because Sweden is one of the countries that pushed to preserve it's craft and skills before it was too late. So naturally you find the better woodworking tools in Sweden. In America the reason so many people do not know about greenwood is that we have gone 100% industrial a century ago. When people say 'dying art', it really is dead here. But not any longer is what I'm trying to get at. This is just one small step, and I'm not the only one that has thought of this or tried it. In the UK folks have been teaching greenwood carving for years and they have held their second 'Spoonfest' this year. I don't want to give too much away, but I grow tired of not spilling the beans. The beans must be spilled. So it has begun... the quest to find other lost 'old souls' and to investigate more on North American design. Specifically designs before and during the time European influence started took over Canada, United States of America, and even Mexico. They are there, just harder to find. image So our gathering has begun. I brought a trunk full of carving stumps, green wood, and a ton of axes and other sharp goodies to pass around. I was struck by the view at Oliver's place. image Some Granfors carvers. All different years in forging. No one is alike. image image We discussed spoon design from the first minute of meeting. Also note how clean the floor was before we begun. We filled a 50gallon can with chips after the weekend was over. image These spoons were made by Jarrod Stone Dahl. Very finely crafted spoons. Very simple, but well executed cuts. It's great to see and actually touch other people's work. Jarrod has been at this for many more years than most of us so it was great to see what exerpience and practice gets you as a craftsmen.
imageSpoons I carved. Cherry and Red Maple
Spoons I carved that day. Cherry and Red Maple image A better view of Jarrod's handcraft. Beautiful birch cuts. image After some carving we decided to walk the property and hunt for more spoon wood. We all took turns identifying certain species we love. Luc since the summer has been trying to persuade me to try more maple. Most maple I used was about as easy to carve as a .... granite boulder. So he wanted to find us some silver and red maple. I am fond of carving Betula papyrifera (White Birch) or Prunus serotina (Black Cherry) and I am a creature of habit. I love sticking to one type and working on it until the entire tree is exausted. Then I move onto another. image Lewis is another tree detective to have around. He was very knowledgeable in this field. I love the photographs I captured here. You can see how jolly everyone was. image image I like Luc's smile here.... he is celebrating his victory over my stubborness and weariness of carving maple. Canada... Maple trees.... I get it! image image Luc wanted to fell a nice Acer rubrum (Red Maple ) and was very excited to use my axe I brought along. image It is more comfortable for him to fell a tree waist height, so we sawed off the bottom afterwords. Must keep a tidy forest. image Oliver did some sawing as well. image image image Back at the shop we got right to splitting billets of maple. image image image Even Luc's adorable daughter did some greenwood working. image image Luc's spoons of the day. His are very clean and organized. Which are different than the pile I brought along to share. I seem to bounce around a lot with ideas and philosophy. I love to experiment and change up technique on a weekly basis.
imageAs well as October's spoon carvings which will be up for sale.
  Here is some of my lot. The couple on the left of Jarrod's again. Some of Luc's kuksa up top.
imageI brought some of my personal collection of spoons.
imageSamien is also a lover of trains.
Luc's son loves trains and had to join us. Part of the reason behind such gatherings is to get younger people involved. Otherwise how else can we preserve such a craft? Luc's adorable daughter would have us chuckling throughout the day, laughing histerically at us trying to have conversations in French. (I don't speak French!)
  Luc's  daughter would have us chuckling throughout the day, laughing histerically at us trying to have conversations in French. (I don't speak French!) image Oliver made a bowl and was using the spoke shave to clean up his axe work. image Well that's a funny way to do it.. but it works! image I really love Luc's family. It was great to be with them again. Even though we have only hung out twice now, I miss them a lot. I feel like an American foreign exchange student when I'm with my French Canadian family. Luc and his wife Stephanie would translate the kids sentances to me. I don't think they little one's minded either. image image Lewis and I are very into harvesting and foraging tree nuts. I brought some Shagbark Hickory nuts, he brought shellbark hickory and some black walnuts. image Lewis brought some Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip poplar) which is dreamy to carve. Very easy on the bones. Everyone was curious how I carve my expertise which is kuksas (cups)  so we decided I should have a little demonstration.
imageSvente Adze - Karlsson Adze - Nic Westermann - Kestral
Adze party. Svente Adze - Karlsson Adze - Nic Westermann - Kestral              -                     I love comparing tools. These are a bit overboard for spoons but are great for other projects.  
imageSvente Adze - Karlsson Adze - Nic Westermann
imageSvente Adze - Karlsson Adze
imageLuc baked us some Sour Dough Bread. Nothing like eating a little taste of Montreal's yeast.
  Luc baked us some Sour Dough Bread. Nothing like eating a little taste of Montreal's yeast.     image Here is a spoon from a friend who has had great influence on my crafts. Jon Mac lives over in England and we talk almost every week or two. Oliver had one of his spoons and I fell in love with the design. Very funky, very sharp, very Jon Mac. I decided I had to do a little photoshoot with this one. So Here are some of the glorious angles Jon has cut.
image Here is my most used carving. A 'Noggin' I carved almost two years ago. This is a prime example of North American origins. Fur traders and Native people's collided and from what I've read we had this. East coast natives' work is much different than the west coast. In the west (Northwest Pacific to be exact) utilize bold colors and dramatic cuts, which is beautiful but this leaves little room for the tree underneath all of that to shine. The                                                                                northeastern tribes carved more simple designs letting the tree speak for itself. More of a plain style, with simple cuts. The noggin was carved from a burl knob sticking out of a tree. You would saw this off the tree and leave a little tab on the end for a handle. Very simple. Mine is                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        mixture of culture but I still find it to be some of my finest work.
imageChef Luc at the helm.
Chef Luc at the helm.
imageLuc's kids played with toys while we cooked breakfast.
image It was kind of fun to be with these people for the first snow of the season. A sign? Maybe.image
imageHe has a keen eye for detail, he will make the perfect spoon carving apprectice to his father one day.
He has a keen eye for detail, he will make the perfect spoon carving apprectice to his father one day.
imageLuc's son Samien is very talented with illustrations. He made me Batman - 'The Dark Night'
Luc's son Samien is very talented with illustrations. He made me Batman - 'The Dark Night' What is strange is that when I was his age, Batman was my hero.
imageLuc wanted to try my main side axe. He was trying his first bowl with these style tools.
Luc wanted to try my main side axe. He was trying his first bowl with these style tools. Here is a carving block that was inspired from a Swedish clog maker film from the 1920s. For some reason my main axe became the highlight of the day. The elusive Ronnvqist axe. Ive been talking to Stefan about some projects. Now to get my hide over to Sweden to meet all these great people I've been talking to about various carving and film projects.     image
imageLewis brought a bear that he carved.
image My little model for the day. image I was surprised these kids werent afraid of my black beard. A lot of kids in America see beards as strange, maybe at least in New York where I live. image image image Ohhh Buckthorn. I brought some of the feared wood to let Oliver try it out. It has this radioactive tangerine color to the wood. To me, it's the most visually striking grain I've seen. But it's mean to carve. It hurts your bones and tools. Luc and Lewis passed, they've been there, done that. image image Oliver roughed out a really nice small spoon image image Oliver then laughed and showed us his very thinnly ground 106 blade. Whoops! Buckthorn eats knives for breakfast!
imageLewis and I both brought some tree nuts that we harvested this Autumn. We had Shagbark Hickory, Shellbark Hickory, and Black Walnuts. A feast.
image Oliver desided to crack them in style, with my axe.
image So this was before we got in our cars and drove out of the mountains back to our homes many miles away. It was a success and we all took home something real special. There are plans for other gatherings and we will be sure to put the word out to any weary wandering greenwood carvers out there. This is just the beginning. A special thanks to the test subjects, you drove long distances to make this happen. Special thanks to Oliver and his lovely gal for taking us in and feeding us. Oh and a shout out to John Dunn who could not make it.
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