The Greenwood GatheringThis post is sort of two articles in one. It’s a bit of a catch up since the fire happened, and about a gathering of craft. The start of a new chapter in a way. If you have no idea what I’m talking about,I did have a blog post about the fire written but I am still unsure if I should post it at this point. Hesitation.. let me tell you.
They say it’s hard to step in someone else’s shoes, but I think it’s even harder to step into an older pair of your own shoes.. It has been a long time since I can act of feel like myself. I am due for an old fashioned ramble so here we go. Put the coffee on, put on your favorite record and get ready to read about a gathering of craft.
Ive been a bit reclusive the past 8 months but it doesn’t mean I haven’t had Wood Culture on my mind.
I’ve talked in the past about what this wood culture is and my direction but recently a great carver and friend of mine couldn’t have said it any better. Check out Jarrod’s blog and ramble on that subject, amongst other things that have been on my mind about wood. This is that gathering Im talking about again.. things I took away from hanging out with him for a week or two now gets brought to this intersection of carvers, and they absorb and share their side. It’s all very heady like I said, but if you’re a carver, you’ll understand where I’m coming from.
It’s a very exciting time and this is proof that I’m not the only one who can smell a bit of treen revolution in the air.
The story begins with a ramshackle cabin nestled up under the forest canopy of a great old mountain just north of Woodstock. Something I find very hard to explain or illustrate to people is how far up into the woods we are here.
I feel very fortunate that I don’t have to drive over an hour to get to the mountains. We live on Mount Guardian and Overlook mountain. So when we harvest wood, we have to climb it’s steep hillsides so I don’t exactly have a flat yard, but the forest is my yard. Not many people can claim that. While looking over these pictures I kept thinking how it looked like we were sitting in the middle of the woods carving, and then realized we really were.
Our Cabin in the woods - She was built in 1903 when this Art & Craft colony was built. A son of a wealthy industrialist was born into the ever-changing world of the industrial revolution who must’ve been seeking something else. He searched around France and other countries for the perfect location for his vision and settled on Woodstock, New York. Which is really to blame for why this town has always been a haven for many of the artist movements. Yes I’m talking almost 70 years before the Woodstock festival that shares it’s name but was held over an hour’s drive away from here. He had a crazy idea of a utopian Arts and Crafts Community and I like the idea of it really. Was it successful? Depends on how you look at it, but I'd say no. It's always been run by wealthy people that have little interest in the actual arts and crafts side, with their eyes on the gold. So as expected, the artists living there (or trying to make a living) have always ended up going somewhere else with the original hope of a utopian community. But I did like the idea of this thinking maybe this will be there year where it all finally clicks. There is nothing wrong with being fed up with what is going on using your bare hands to work on a change. Being rebellious and walking the walk… maybe Im just being romantic about the history and he was just thinking it’d be a fun project and make some money? You can be the judge.. but its the idea that counts in the end.
All of this long reading is worth it I promise..
The house we live in belonged to Jane Whitehead who was the wife of the founder. Kind of amazing to think of how important this place was, and how many influential people lived here, not to mention how many crafts and movements began inside these very walls that have been left unchanged. It’s a historic landmark and it’s really something knowing this place was America’s first Arts & Crafts Colony. I like to think Im not just living here but now Im a part of this ongoing experiment, and now it’s a part of a new craft movement but more on that in the future. This is a story about a gathering of spoon carvers.Ive been wanting to host a woodcraft gathering for years, or a more proper name would be "Greenwood Gathering". But the last place I called home was just too difficult to accommodate everyone. Not to mention I lived in a makeshift apartment/recording studio above a hot rod garage. The forest was right in the backyard, but sharing a yard with a noisy garage and my neighboring family wasn’t in the cards. Pretty tough to teach carving with hot rods and harleys roaring in the background.
So it was time to finally pull the trigger. Something I learned after the fire was to not hesitate and jump right into ideas and projects. I regret many things because of that fire last November. I was working on a book or two, was getting photos ready for little galleries, a pile of almost finished films, and other projects but never debuted them because I wasn’t sure they’d ever be ‘perfect’ enough. A word we should all learn to forget about saying. Which brings up a great point.. when you are an artist or craftsman, perfection is something we always work towards but know we’ll never see it. This is what keeps us hungry, but can be crippling too.
So for this first ‘test’ gathering I wanted to invite very few people, after all we haven’t had any guests over since the fire 8 months ago. Too many people would be overwhelming and it would defeat the whole purpose of this gathering. With a smaller group of carvers, it'd be a lot easier to discuss the ideas that have been stirring in my mind for quite some time.
Patrick Alan Diette and Luc Lavoie have been badgering me for a couple of months to get together. I'm thankful to have good friends that want to see me back at it again, and not hiding in a hole somewhere in a mountain. So I planned one very last minute. Don Nalezyty form Washington D.C. can tell you.. What Maybe 5 days notice to the folks who travelled the lands to get all the way up here in the Catskills?
Right after the fire I was invited to come demonstrate my kuksa carving at the Milan Spoon Gathering but summer came fast and I wasn’t ready to leave home so soon. We’re almost settled in here but for example, we just installed lights in the living room after three months of darkness - we have no furniture other than a table and just enough chairs for five people. I guess in a way the gathering was perfect timing so everyone got to discuss craft. But my new midwest carving family and some NY friends were out west in Milan carving, so feeling left out we had to carve.
It comes full circle when you think back to why this colony was originally built. It was the love of the land and a crazy and revolutionary idea towards a distant utopian craft future. It exactly didn’t go as planned but the colony is still trucking along alive and well.
With that out of the way..
If you haven’t carved with other people you need to get something going. It doesn’t take much to have a little carve-in or spoon gathering as a lot of us have been calling it. In Britain it seems like Im reading about them more and more and wish we practiced this here in the states. The obstacle is how much of a land mass our country so it divides us up into little pockets of greenwood carvers. It took about 20 hours od driving just to get to Grand Marais where North House is located. So I fully encourage others to run off with that same idea and theme.Don’t have much, but have a couple old tools to make spoons, and a dusty old chopping stump? Bring it, make a lunch, and carve with someone new. Next time invite more people and eventually you will have bigger gatherings. Spread the woodculture like the flu I say.
It is a sure fire way to increase your skills and techniques while seeing how others build their workflows.
Not to mention the hilarious banter and heady discussions. I still haven’t posted about my trip to North House but that place is the hotspot for this sort of thing and we really lived it up. Serious focus on craft all day and into the night where it was a roar of banjo playing, stomping, ale bowl sipping, and very deep discussion about our involvement as humans and how craft ties it all together. It was like a summit of the spoon carving realm in the US. I am grateful to be brought under their wing especially during the week of the fire. Was a lot of mixed emotions, and a huge turning point in my life in a lot of ways. I look forward to visiting them all again. Thanks guys.
So these little offshoot gatherings are great because we can make ourselves a little more known, and connect up the network one by one. Highly recommended.. start gathering and don’t look back.
What makes a great gathering? This is something a bunch of us have been discussing for a couple years. It's tough to plan out since there is always so much catching up to do, studying others work, getting critiques, and actually sitting down to carve things. Think about this when you look throughout the photos. I’m not sure I know the answer yet, but I have some ideas.
One thing I think is important is to bring a pile of your spoons, and maybe some of your collection of other makers. It reveals a lot about you without saying words.
Here is my (new) collection - The spoon rack miraculously survived the fire, tucked away in the far corner of the shop which was the only tiny portion untouched from the building that burned down. The kuksa on the left was actually the second cup I had ever carved and was made maybe a year before I ever made my first spoon. Glad I still have it even though I don’t like it. It’s a bit clumsy and sanded but it gets the job done and marks a time in my life when treen really got me fired up for the first time. The rest were made within the last two years.
As for the spoons from left to right: Barn Carder, Jarrod Stone Dahl (x3), Magnus Sundelin, Patrick Diette, Thomas Dengler, Don Nalezyty (x2), Luc Lavoie (x2), and the rest to the right are mine. I need a bigger rack now because I just got new spoons this gathering.Here is what I carved most recently in the past two weeks or so. Another subject that always comes up is how different the one's work looks in person opposed to a squashed 2D image on a computer screen. It’s how we’re representing our work with photography and perception is very important when trying to display your work. So from what Ive witnessed is that most of the time people are surprised when they see a spoon in person because the person taking photos accidentally distorted reality a bit. (Making the spoon look too short, long, wide, skinny, crooked, etc) I have been asked about putting together a class for this as well which seems like a great idea. But that is a whole different episode that I want to talk about another time. Patrick arrived first. If you don’t know Patrick Alan Diette Mr. Klipnocky well I advise you to mosey over his work. He also lives in New York and has become a good friend in the North American spoon alliance. Some of Pat's work to the bottom left, mine on the right
Can’t have important discussions without ale bowl action. Jarrod made those and they get used a lot. If ale bowls could talk.. Those are his wooden plates too.As you can see, most of the kitchen is wooden and we have been for years weeding out ugly nonsense metalware and junk glassware. It's odd to some at first, but I don't even have a beer glass anymore. So if you come over, you get an ale bowl. Having to start over has been nice in this way. If we need ceremic or glass plates, we have a friend Rika Blue out in California who makes such nicest hand thrown bowls and plates. It does feel nice to know where your items come from and what went into them. We were gifted a lot of silverware and extra glassware however, which is nice incase we have a huge hoard of guests come over but I am not a fan of any of that noisy stuff. Not a full purge of industrial items but the kitchen is feeling more welcoming now that it's filling up with craft. So Pat and I tossed many thoughts around before Luc arrived with his son Samian. Luc and I at this point, go way back. He drove down from Montreal with is son Samian, aspiring greenwood craftsman. I always really look forward to seeing him as he brings out the better carver in me. He’s not afraid to straight out tell you what is wrong with a spoon. To some that is blunt, but I believe we can all learn from someone so honest and kind about it. Cheers my friend, and keep on making some of the best spoons around. Later on I had to run down the road to pickup Don who took a bus all the way from Washington, D.C. and was ready just in time for some homemade Poutine. Luc brought down a whole bunch of fresh poutine and gave Jess the recipe so we feasted like kings and got the Canadian seal of approval. International incident avoided.. phew. Thanks Jess! You know it’s good when an American makes poutine and doesn’t get smashed in the head with a ladle by a Canadian. Morning came and morning went. This is how we had breakfast… the entire table covered in enough spoons to kill a horse. Who needs tablespace anyways? There were important spoon things to talk about. These meet ups are fun because you actually get to try out the objects you are carving. I also got to meet a spoon Ive been chasing after since the new year. Ive probably made over 70 in attempt to mimic her inspiring work. Anja Sundberg makes these really pretty spoons and for some reason it really played nice with some of my spoon designs. I saw photos that Jojo Wood was posting and Don happened to have one for me to look over. I am surprised how close I got just from a photo but after all of my fussing, her spoon is just right and mine needs another 70 or so. In the end when I see mine now, I see them as two different entities and mine evolved into something a different. We’ll see where it goes but these are the things we discussed. After I finally got over the Anja spoon we got to talk about Don's latest spoons he's made. Damn they were good too.. Its interesting to think of how many other carvers are involved in this gathering other than the ones who attended. I must’ve talked about more than 10 makers and showed their work. We didn’t just pass around these carvings, we used them all weekend. Some of Jarrod Stone Dahl’s bowls, Wesley Pilley’s, Spoons of Thomas Dengler, Magnus Sundelin, Barn Carder, Nathan Wolfenbarger, Luc Lavoie, Patrick Diette, Mike Loefler. I used to have more but they were lost in the fire. Some nice one’s from some of these makers as well as others Ive met along the adventures Roger Abramson, Oliver Pratt, and other makers. So far this year I got some good spoon swaps in with folks and I plan to repurchase my old collection be it money or trading my work. I already started this weekend. Some new spoons in the collection. From left to right: (2x) Patrick Diette, Another Don Nalezyty, Luc Lavoie (x2), and a spoon Luc gave to be that was carved by Olov Östling. After breakfast we climbed the hill to a white birch I felled but got hung up the day before. So Pat helped me lay it down nicely and we lugged my loaded pack baskets home. Plenty of wood for a proper gathering I have to say. Now I can really get back to my usual output of kuksa carving. Big step for me to be back to this stage again. From here on out the whole weekend was a big blur. There was so much talked about, and so much done it all really takes some time to digest. So I'll just post up some images and thoughts as they go not in any particular order. We got right to work on the fresh birch. Like father like son. Luc using his plate adze on his spoon blank. I always have a great time with Samian. I know very little french if any, and he only knows a little bit of english so we do most of our communication via body language which leads to a lot of laughs. I was looking forward to Jess meeting him because he is a riot. Samian wanted to read her his comic book so he went off a mile a minute with all sorts of emotion. I think for him hanging in a foreign land, it's exciting but also a little lonely since you can't understand what everyone is saying. So when given the chance he went all out. Luc was on standby for translation. These are the things I appreciate about our craft. Ive met so many wonderful people and the wooden spoon was the vehicle. Night was falling fast upon us and as you can see the discussions grew deeper. Bryan swung by to join in the gathering. Him and I went out to North House last November and we lived in a tent on the shore of Lake Superior. Was a great time even though I had a huge mess to come home to. Don insisted on giving Jess night off as chef, and made his specialty pizzas. I can see why this is such a hit over at the Edale Spoonfest in the UK. Thanks for cooking Don. Another late night, tossing and turning trying to sleep. Wake up, eat breakfast with wooden things, get back at axing blanks.. Breakfast just got better. I got this Sumac spoon from Luc the night before and it's a keeper. Made from a proper crook and shuts down all the naysayers who claim Sumac isn't good enough for a spoon. Glad to have this one in my collection. The carvers that I follow have amazing designs but it's always that one-off spoon, the oddball in the group that I like to collect and use. Not that this one is odd at all, its beautiful. Some of what I was working on. It's fun to see how many different makers pop up at gatherings. Name that maker..? If you read Jarrod's blog post "Wood is Not Steel" then you'd see the crack in his bowl here in a different light. Some of Wesley's bowls on the bottom, which were inspired by a bowl design Jarrod has been after for ages. Those two have never met but do you catch my drift about the craft gathering? It's happening right here on the kitchen shelf. Lucas sumac crook drip drying after breakfast. One of Don’s spoons Luc wanted to show us how he makes May Whistles for his kids. He's using some striped maple here. As the sun went down we moved the party inside. Jess pointed out that this might be one of few photos of Luc and myself smiling. People always think we’re so serious.. Luc wanted more demonstration on my kuksa carving process and it was perfect timing for it. In a larger group it’s very difficult to teach something like this that is so involved and longer of a process. So the smaller group was beneficial in a lot of ways. I’d like to teach some brief demonstrations to larger groups but if you want to learn hands on, and have my full attention at every turn, there will be courses for that. Spoons on the other hand are perfect because one can whip up a spoon in 45 minutes at a time. That gives everyone a turn at showing their tricks and carving technique. Teaching others is a great way to learn more about yourself and your skills. Somethings we never notice unless we actually say it out loud. So after Luc was on his way with his kuksa I decided I’ll make one and try to catch up. It’s tricky to hollow cups with an adze because they’re really meant for larger diameter openings like a bowl. So it takes a bit of nerve and precise swings to no ruin the rim of the cup. I can geek out on kuksas all day. I look forward to the day I can travel to Finland/Sweden to see some first hand. Here I’m explaining about wall thickness and design. For folks who don’t carve, you have to imagine this block of wood holds inside itself a cup. So you’re carving away everything except what makes itself a cup. Trying to visualize a design in an everchanging block of wood is not easy at first. Each time you swing the axe to remove a chip of wood, you have to refocus. Not to mention we’re talking in three dimensions here so you’re not just looking at it from top down. The object is rotated around constantly so it really teaches you about design and form very fast. You also cannot force a design on this raw material because wood has it’s own properties that make it stronger in one way, but also carries many weaknesses so you are forced to work with it’s limitations. That might sound like I’m making wood sound like an inferior material but it’s really not. Ive seen so many things built with wood that defied what I was taught growing up. Ive heard of wooden framed cars, Ive seen threaded wood plumbing and pipes, gutters, armor.. I was even told that some of the first wooden ships made here during the revolution were made of live oak and the enemy’s cannon balls would literally bounce right off the sides of these ships like a rubber ball. Wood is amazingly strong, but wood is not steel. It was fun to show a different type of carving that most haven’t been exposed to in person. Unfortunately we were all too busy and happy to stop and take pictures so luckily Jess snapped some along the way. In the future I plan on having a follow along type of post so you actually see and understand what I’m doing when I carve kuksas and maybe make your own. My favorite image Jess caught late into the night. Luc and I are in deep in discussion about the kuksa process and if you were to read this photo only by body language, you’d think it was some heated argument. Keeps cracking me up. “In MY HOUSE, We carve green wood only!” Pat is in the back thinking “I’m staying out of this!” Too funny Luc, always a great time discussing the deepest of craft thoughts. A little bed time story before Samian went to bed. Of course, Samian insisted that we hear it too. I actually remembered this book from when I was a kid, but now I get to hear it in french. I feel like I need to name this ale bowl that Jarrod carved. I've been calling it his chase bowl but it needs something schnazzy. I’m a bit disappointed towards the end of these gatherings. I always feel I didn’t carve enough, didn’t take enough photos, and didn’t discuss enough things that have been occupying my mind. But that is after all what the chase is all about. To keep us hungry for the next time. I just wish I got a good closing shot.. I guess this would be the best shot for that purpose. I kept these guys up late, as they’ll joke, I am a night owl but it seemed to drive the focus even finer. Just look at the expressions here.. I don’t think anyone had a bad time and we walked away with more than we brought to the table. So is this what makes a perfect gathering? Maybe this is the most appropriate shot.. the quiet aftermath. My spoils at towards the end. I really just rough finished spoons. Too hard not to get distracted with so much action going on. Here are the main go-to’s for knives. Both were forged by Nic Westermann. Clarifying Oil - Don has been doing some interesting experimenting and research in clarifying oils. I have always been on the hunt for a more clear oil that doesn’t yellow as it cures so this might be the next step. It’s ironic because the first day I jokingly asked Don if he thinks it’s really worth all the trouble to refine it. That night I couldn’t sleep and it was on my mind and I read an article about DaVinci clarifying his walnut oil and that was it. The next day I confessed that I take my words back, I want in on this too. So he left me with a sample and I gave him some of the oil I have been into from another US company called Heritage Natural Finishes. Been digging their tung and linseed oil for over a year now. I was doing some testing for them last year and they were sending me interesting oils to experiment with. Hemp oil was neat but I lost all those test spoons so there is no point in talking about them until I run through them again. It’s not something you can test overnight, it takes months and months of tinkering and watching the oil age on wood after a considerable amount of time. I had planned to show the documentation I found but all that is gone so we must do it over. Luc gave me this beautiful basket he crafted by using different barks. This is something I really want to learn some day. Aha! Here it is, a proper closing photo. The morning after the gathering I ended up having to dump out baskets of woodchips from the living room. It doesn't get any better than that.. Will there be more gatherings? Count on it. I know I have told folks in the past year that if I have a gathering I will let them know. I have reasons why I only invited a couple of friends over and to honest couldn’t handle a real large gathering at the moment. So I hope you all understand and don’t feel left out at all.