New Perspectives - Update on life and carving

 

I haven't written anything in a while. Life has been hectic since I got home at the end of March. The pipes burst in the yurt while I was away and it took time to get that fixed. Which ended up being a chain reaction of things trying to hold me back from putting all my energy into creating and getting caught up with life while I was away for almost three months in England. 

I've been in full force since I got back. Felled two beautiful trees to carve up. I also have been preparing for June which is going to be a big month. I'll be away teaching at three of the finest schools in America that are focused solely on folk & craft. North House Folk School, American Swedish Institute, and at the world's first Spoon Gathering at Milan Arts School which are all in Minnesota. But there is a lot to get done and weeks in the woods can fly by fast. Fitting it into my daily regime was going to take some planning.

Here are the links to my workshop page listings for each course where you can sign up and bring home some of your own craft after spending a couple days with me teaching you the ways of my craft.

North House Folk School

The American Swedish Institute

Milan Arts School & Spoon Gathering

Since I am the only one teaching kuksa carving I often have obstacles to overcome. No one has the tools on hand that I use. I rely on gouges, and some adzes but the craft schools really just have mora straights and some axes that could use some love. Also I wedge my hewed billets in a wooden vice with legs. Still working on a name for that, but Nic Westermann and I spent some time re-engineering designs in Wales to come up with something more versatile, that utilizes less material to make, has a strong hold on the billet, and can be taken apart much faster than what was out there. I'll be putting up a blueprint for such a thing soon so you can download it and be on your merry kuksa way.

 Note that these are the old designs that I still use are home. If you're interested in a carving course, send  me a message. We'll carve away around the campfire here in Woodstock.

Note that these are the old designs that I still use are home. If you're interested in a carving course, send  me a message. We'll carve away around the campfire here in Woodstock.

I usually teach sold out classes of ten students. So that's ten large rounds of wood to shape, and forty legs to whip up out of thin air! These will be coming along with me on my 24 hour drive halfway across the country. So I have been thinking of better ways to save space, but still have a proper chopping block for students.These can't be made overnight since nature forces you to work in stages. Everything is harvested green and mustn't be completely shaped before it's dry. Otherwise legs would wobble out, things would crack in half, etc.

Since I felled that fresh White Birch tree I've been knee deep in woodchips. I've gone full speed ahead with what I'm considering the best kuksas I've ever made. In fact, there are about 25-30 in the yurt right now drying. It may be the largest group of hand carved [with hand tools only] cups in the world which invokes exciting thoughts. So far so good. I've been studying more design elements and also stripping them down as well. Trying to get to the bottom of design and what makes a great cup. Also I've been taking more notes and experimenting with drying and cracking. Yes! I do sometimes try to induce cracking on cups. There's some hearsay about why cups crack, but I believe a lot of that is just talk, or something recycled and picked up from what one has read online. Voodoo, bad juju, boiling in salt water, unicorn tears, etc... But more on that later. Which is another thing that deserves a quick mention. I've now started sketching and writing ideas for a book that years ago was started but it burned up in the fire. I'm thinking of starting small, and self publishing a little pocket sized book with sketches, notes on carving, and some stream of thought. Kuksa Do's and Don'ts or something like that.

Apparently I have a lot on my mind because I started typing this to talk about life in the yurt and got carried away on a tangent. So here it goes..

After living in a dark yurt for over a year and a half I really missing waking up to windows with a clear view to look out to as the fog in my head fades away each morning. Some windows just look like paintings. This is up at my folk's place.

 
 

It's amazing what one will do to keep creativity up but I think often it can also be the downfall of me. I avoid modern routines at all possible with most things in life, but end up caught doing just that. I forget to stop and smell the roses, pardon the cliche. So today, it was pouring rain and decided to take the camera and dog on a walk. This is something I used to do all the time but I'm realizing some things did change after the fire and I'm trying to figure it out.  I used to write all the time, I used to photograph more, I used to question more of the small details and in the process it'd help me unwind and understand life more.

Above is an audio clip so you can get a sense of what a typical night in my life sounds like. There is no soundproofing in a yurt. You hear everything. I just realized after listening to this clip that I can hear the train whistle blowing in the distance. It's amazing to think that sound can snake it's way through hollows, swamps, and creek beds, from almost fifty miles away on the Hudson River!


As I was walking in the rain I was thinking about textures, and how they affect my work.

Look where I live. It's just gorgeous, rugged, and raw. I take it for granted, but when I have  people over they open my eyes up a bit. Which I guess this can be the negative side of being a full time crafts person. You are so absorbed in the making process that everything else is just a blur.

This is an old road from the Civil War times (Mid 1800s) when miners would drag down gargantuan slabs of bluestone from the mountainsides. This is just behind the yurt.

 
 It's hard to illustrate how steep some of these paths are. We're at the foothill of the first uprising of the Catskill Mountains which you can see from over 100 miles away.

It's hard to illustrate how steep some of these paths are. We're at the foothill of the first uprising of the Catskill Mountains which you can see from over 100 miles away.

 

Here's some bluestone that was carried down by glacial movement a couple years ago. It cleaves almost dead flat. This is part of why this was such a sought after material.

I hope that the folks who don't have access to wilderness in their lives get a sense of what this is like. When I look through these I think about how heightened the senses are when you aren't in a city or town full of noise and smells. Just breathe in the evergreens, moss, and rock off these photos.

After a long dark winter you can imagine how one can yearn for some new growth, and some color in such a bleak place. All of the birch, beech, maple, oak, and other trees have sprouted leaves and you can actually watch them grow from day to day. Years ago I wrote about the bittersweet life in a deciduous forest. You really root for all of it when it just starts happening. I guess that's the desperation of winter. Then in August after you finally grow used to the scenery it all starts to change pigments and moods. If you haven't witnessed the colors in person, I beg you to live under the color canopies one autumn here in the Catskills. Each day is like a psychdelic or technicolor wash of colors. It's the only way I can explain it. Trees do this..   Slowly the forest seems to recede, wither back, and we're left in shadow as the sun seems to hide as much as possible. Then on one cold rainy day, a big gust of wind sweeps it all to the floor. I just noticed the other day as the branches are starting to fill with leaves that I can hear wind again. You can even distinguish certain varieties of trees. Especially the Quaking Aspen which seems to rattle or whisper in the breeze.

My girl Nicky constantly reminds me how I live in an ocean of trees. She lives in England where some parts are completely void of trees where they once stood. I can't imagine what it would be like not growing up what feels like a rainforest to me. Oh the possibilities. There are so many song birds, deer, bear, coyotes, frogs, salamanders, fish, and owls. I live here and just walk right by it should be a crime. I think to feel alive, sometimes we need to realize that everything around us is living too.

 You could get lost very quickly in the Catskills. Unmarked paths, and where I live is near Platte Clove. The land is unpredictable, steep, and unstable. There has been mudslides on one of the scenic roads up there.

You could get lost very quickly in the Catskills. Unmarked paths, and where I live is near Platte Clove. The land is unpredictable, steep, and unstable. There has been mudslides on one of the scenic roads up there.

 Birch Catkins. It all begins with this..

Birch Catkins. It all begins with this..

 Striped Maple. Not the best spoon carving wood but acceptable in a pinch. You know you've gone off the deep end when a forest really looks like lots of supplies. Each plant has a purpose really. The older I get the more I realize this. I remember when the woods were just a scary jungle as a young boy. I'd carve spears and explore the muddy swamps and rocky mountainsides trying to learn how it all worked. I guess this life is no different.

Striped Maple. Not the best spoon carving wood but acceptable in a pinch. You know you've gone off the deep end when a forest really looks like lots of supplies. Each plant has a purpose really. The older I get the more I realize this. I remember when the woods were just a scary jungle as a young boy. I'd carve spears and explore the muddy swamps and rocky mountainsides trying to learn how it all worked. I guess this life is no different.

 I wonder what pigment I could get from that Lichen over there. Natural dyes are another rabbit hole I could get lost in easy.

I wonder what pigment I could get from that Lichen over there. Natural dyes are another rabbit hole I could get lost in easy.

 White Birch - Does it really even need an introduction. Hands down the greatest tree of all time.

White Birch - Does it really even need an introduction. Hands down the greatest tree of all time.

 You could fit in some of these cracks.

You could fit in some of these cracks.

 
 
 
 

I love trees, I think everything about them is perplexing and beautiful. I always remind people that I'm a tree cutter, not a tree hugger. But I'm sure what I say about trees would make people wonder. 

Look at the bark.

Even the dying leaves have character.

Their insides hide surprises, and also history.

This is just one of the really beautiful things you can make from trees.

 
 

So that is what I've been up for the most part. Nicky should be here at the end of this month, and we will head northwest on our road trip. Lots of exciting things will be happening! I hope to post here more during my trip and also carve some special limited edition spoons and kuksas that I'll be putting in my shop for sale as we roll. I think it would be a great project and a way to help make the travels a little easier as far as putting gas in the tank and other costs go. We'll be covering a lot of ground!

Also this summer I'll be teaching in the UK again. I'll be at Spoonfest teaching a couple different things, and by night will be bending some guitar strings around the fire. After that I'll be teaching at my friend Barn's craft school in London August 12th and 13th. Most of you I'm sure know who Barn The Spoon is, and if you don't you know what to do. It's called The Green Wood Guild and it's something else. Situated on a little farm in East London, when you're sitting there at your axe stump you wouldn't even know you were in the heart of a big city with the chickens and pigs singing their songs all day. Gorgeous project and some of the nicest folks keep it running who I'm glad to call my friends. To be the first guest carving instructor at such an inspiring place is really a big honor. I dig what they're doing, they spread the wood in an urban environment and make some killer craft.

The theme of the post was new perspectives and I hope to keep that going. Big changes are ahead which will be tough but I'm looking forward to them.

[If you're interested in having your own kuksa there are some links below]

 
Alex YerksComment