Jane Mickelborough’s Folding Spoons

The oak furniture I make is based on 17th-century examples made in my general neighborhood – the first batch of chests & boxes I learned about were made maybe 10 miles from where I grew up. My spoons are a different story – literally. I learned spoon carving from Jögge & Wille Sundqvist, and Drew Langsner…so my spoons are rooted in the Swedish style – as are many other modern-day spoon carvers.

One thing I keep in mind when looking at inviting instructors for Greenwood Fest is simple – I would like to spend time getting to know these people, and learning woodworking from them. (I get to do the former, but I’m too busy to really learn much during the event…)

jane

I met Jane Mickelborough last summer at Spoonfest and Täljfest – and was very happy when she said she’d come to Greenwood Fest. Jane is currently engrossed in making some decidedly-non-Swedish style spoons. Her recent work is based on historical spoons from Brittany, where she lives with her husband Peter. I wanted to know more about her spoons, and how she got on this Breton-folding-spoon-kick, so I asked her. I thought readers might like it too, so below is a series of questions I sent Jane and she kindly answered more than I asked. Jane will be teaching a 2-day class Carve a Hinged Spoon, and demonstrating wax inlaid decoration in the pre-fest courses https://www.greenwoodfest.org/course-details

 
PF: Somewhere along the line in your woodworking, you learned spoon-carving. Then began to see/study/copy particular spoons that were historically made in Breton. How did this come about? Was it thought-out, or stumbled-upon?

JM: I stumbled-upon spoon-carving by complete accident about five months before the first Spoonfest. I found the famous Martin Hazell on Facebook (via a friend of a friend) having known him in real life about 30 years before. And on his site were these amazing wooden spoons! I was immediately smitten and determined to have a go myself. I haven’t got fed-up with them yet. I only discovered Breton spoons quite a lot later. People at markets would tell me about Breton wedding spoons, and I (wrongly) assumed these would be like the highly-ornamental but essentially non-functional spoons that were made in Wales to commemorate a wedding. So I ignored them. When i finally took a look at them I was completely blown-away by what was an incredibly strong, popular and local tradition, and by the wonderful spoons themselves.

antique-folding-spoon

PF:  Care to tell us something about these spoons? I know you’re going to present some of your research, etc when we’re in Plymouth, but how about a teaser? I know you’ve learned to recognize regional variations in spoons…

JM: Breton peasants had precious few paid holidays, a very monotonous diet but an obvious love for a good party. Everyone would turn-out for a local wedding – more than a thousand guests over three days was common. If you could afford to, you contributed some food or drink, while those that could not were nonetheless welcome. Providing a thousand spoons was out of the question in the days before hire companies and party organisers. Each guest was expected come dressed-up in his or her best clothes and to bring their own spoon (which would always have been made of wood) and it appears that the tradition of decorated spoons arose from the very human desire to show off! These so-called wedding spoons were specifically made to be used as party spoons, spoons for best, or show-off spoons and they are highly decorated and often inlaid with coloured wax or even pewter.

folding-3

folding-2

Nearly all Breton decorated spoons are made of box wood and something like half of the existing spoons have hinges. These two facts may be related, as box doesn’t grow well here in wet and windy Brittany. You can make a spoon using smaller pieces of less-than-perfect wood if you make it in two halves (this I have tried). Sprigs of box were the foliage that Breton peasants took to church on Palm Sunday (palms don’t grow well here either). The story goes that these box sprigs would be put into the roadside banks on the way home after church, so that they would grow into more box bushes. Frankly, this doesn’t sound like an ideal propagating technique to me, but who knows now?

Before the first world war, not many Breton peasants travelled very far from home and this resulted in very localised styles in everyday stuff like clothing, music, dance, household furniture and even spoons. There are two (possibly three) main regional styles of breton decorated spoons that can be fairly easily recognised. What is beyond question is that by the 19th century they were mainly made by very skilled craftsmen who tended to make sets of near-identical spoons in a local style, rather than just making occasional one-offs. I’m currently trying to track-down records of some of the actual spoon makers, to clarify this, but this is going to take me quite a while yet…

PF: Can you describe some of your recording methods when you study these in collections? I know how to record furniture pieces, but what information are you specifically looking at in spoons? Tracings, templates, measurements?

JM: Basic information like measurements and a description are available from the museums housing the collections. I mainly rely on my trusty iPhone to take photos from every angle so that I can make observations on the spoon shapes and decorations in my own time. Museum reserve collections are rarely kept in over-heated buildings and it can be a very cold day’s work to get a collection looked-at and photographed.

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folding-4

Getting my hands on the spoons allows me to see exactly how the hinges are made, how well they work, why they sometimes break, and the modifications that were made to get the spoon to fold properly (or indeed, to fold at all!). There’s a satisfaction in seeing that someone before me has already made ALL the mistakes I’ve made while trying to get a spoon to fold, plus some mistakes I haven’t tried yet. You really can’t get this from pictures.

Seeing them up-close has also given me some clues about the decorating techniques that are too subtle to see in pictures. What happens when the inlay wax is overheated, exactly how some of the chip-carving has been done, how the metal inlay has been applied… Its also possible to see the subtle signs of wear, that confirm that many of these spoons were regularly used for eating. Then comes the trial & error in making both folding spoons & wax inlay.

folding-1

PF: Want to tell us something about the challenges in these related but distinct spoon carving disciplines?

JM: Oh my – take a look online at recipes for old-fashioned sealing wax. There are hundreds, and no two are the same. I had a long chat with a friend who is an antique dealer and restorer who gave me some ideas as well. Then I started stinking the house out with melting various combinations of wax, rosin, shellac, turpentine and different pigments – I hate to think what our fire-insurance people would have thought of it all! Just like making home-made milk paint, I have found that different pigments affect the resulting wax in different ways, but even this is not consistent. Factors like how fast the ingredients are melted, or whether it’s stirred during or after melting seem to be important too. The waxes I’m currently using work quite well, but I haven’t nearly finished experimenting yet, but I suspect I never will. This is definitely an art rather than a science! It turns out that pewter inlay is a common technique used by musical instrument makers here in Brittany and I have been able to talk to a few of them about this technique. I still haven’t tried it seriously, but I’m saving it for a later day. One thing at at time!

 

here’s Jane’s Instagram feed – https://www.instagram.com/janespoons/ 

revisiting an old favorite

I’ve been trying to finish off this chest with 2 drawers lately. I’m close, but have to go to North House Folk School soon, so the last bits will be in 2 weeks. Today I spent making the last 12′ of moldings – out of a total of over 45 feet! Rabbet plane first…

rabbet-before-molding

…followed by hollows & rounds….

round-for-hollow

Late in the day I still had some daylight. I have been using the last 30 or 45 minutes each day to hew some spoons for evening carving…but today I split some reject joinery-oak and started shaving the rear posts for some ladderback chairs. Must be because I’ve been thinking of Drew Langsner lately…

Here you can see the chest with a couple of clamps holding the drawer’s moldings in place. Shaving the chair posts was like old times…
shaving-posts

Here’s the inspiration – one of the last chairs from Jennie Alexander’s hand…and Drew’s book The Chairmaker’s Workshop. I had to look up a few things to remind me of what I was doing.

shaving-rear-post-ladder-back-chair

The last time I made these chairs was some shrunk-down versions for when the kids were small, December 2009. These chairs are put away in the loft now, outgrown…

kids-chairs-2

kids-chair-frame

 

I hope to bend the posts Friday, then leave them in the forms while I’m away. Hopefully there will be some chairmaking going on in March…

 

 

 

Passing the Baton: Country Workshops & the Maine Coast Craft School

meet me in the country

I keep hearing bits and snatches of news about things down near Marshall, N.C. – home of Country Workshops. In his newsletter from the last part of 2016, Drew Langsner mentioned that things were slowing down. For 2017 there are only 2 tutorials this summer. So I wrote to Drew, asking “Is this it?” “Yup”, came the answer.

Drew showing bowls
Drew showing bowls

End of an era is an understatement. All those years, all those classes, trooping into their house and home. I think it started about 1977 or so. I first went there in 1980, to learn ladderback chairmaking from then-John Alexander. By the mid-80s, I was a regular attendee, and in 1988 a summer intern, ending that season with a large class in timber-framing where we built the “new” barn. Once I got a museum job in the mid-1990s, I didn’t get down to Drew & Louise’s for a while, then went back as an instructor and once a student in 2010. My earlier post about Drew & Louise, and their Country Workshops saga is here https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2012/11/13/how-did-i-get-started-country-workshops-the-langsners-is-how/

This summer will be the end, both of the workshops and the tool store. But Kenneth & Angela Kortemeier,will take up some of where Drew & Louise are leaving off –  their new school, in mid-coast Maine, is starting up the same time Country Workshops is winding down. Kenneth has quite a resume, including  stints as Drew’s intern, and a period living with John Brown making chairs in Wales.

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Here’s the fledgling website, a new place to watch. http://www.mainecoastcraft.com/  Drew told me that part of what Kenneth & Angela will be doing up there in Maine includes taking over some tool sales involving the great tools by Hans Karlsson and Svante Djarv that Drew has helped bring to the US. And more…

l-r Dave Fisher, Drew Langsner, Louise Langsner

BUT – one other part of this story. This June, Drew & Louise are coming to Plymouth to be our special guests at Greenwood Fest. I’ve asked Drew to put together a slide history of Country Workshops, and they’ll be around for the festival to meet up with old friends and meet new ones. This is a chance to thank them in person for all the work they’ve done for decades. Many green woodworkers in America and beyond can trace their roots to Drew & Louise, even if they don’t know it…

non-woodworking books for sale

books

For I-don’t-know-how-many-years this household did a lot of research into 17th-century topics. Mine of course, was focused on furniture and woodworking; Maureen was a generalist. She left the museum field before I did, about 9 years ago now. We were cleaning & sorting through some boxes today and found some books that someone might like. I listed them on Amazon – but…if anyone out there is interested, we can sort it out. Sorry there’s no woodworking or furniture – I kept all those. you never know when I might get back to writing furniture history…

Paragons of Virtue: Women and Domesticity in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art, Wayne E Franits, Cambridge University Press, 1995, softcover. $40

Findings Material Culture of Needlework and Sewing, SOLD  Mary C Beaudry, Yale University Press, 2006. hardcover $40

Trumpets from the Tower: English Puritan Printing in the Netherlands, 1600-1640, Keith Sprunger, E.J Brill, 1994, hardcover – $60

Painting and the Market in Early Modern Antwerp, Elizabeth Alice Honig, Yale University Press, 1998. Hardcover  $90

The New Draperies in the Low Countries and England, edited N. B. Harte, Oxford University Press, 1997, hardcover.  $60

Normal woodsy bits back soon…

PF

Joined chest class

This past weekend was the wrap-up to the joined chest class at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. http://www.schoolofwoodworking.com/ One weekend a month, for five months, with homework is a tall order.

chest-front
Matt’s chest front assembled

In addition to the outlay of cash, these students made the commitment of time – that is really striking to me. I appreciate them signing on for this class, and Bob Van Dyke for making it possible. We had some struggles, mostly related to wood supply; and also had a lot of fun making these chests. When I was a student many years ago, Jennie Alexander used to have us all make the same ladderback chair in the class, there was no deviation. I remember once JA suggested just making the chairs, piling them in a heap, and each student taking one home. That didn’t fly, but it illustrated the general notion of a class project.

carving
Rick doing more carving

My workshops are usually nothing like that. I seem to be dumb enough to say to each student, yea – you could add this or that, make this change – why not carve the side frames and panels – so there’s a lot of variation in these projects. And because of the amount of work involved, each student was at a different point in their chest. The way the class worked, I’d cover two topics each weekend,  – layout, joinery/carving, decoration/tills, floors, etc.

Then I’d wander from bench to bench to see where the students were, and what they needed. In between classes, I’d often send them blog posts that served as notes for what we just did, or what was coming up. When it ran smoothly anyway…here’s pictures. Some awful. some ok.

detail
molded edge, peg holes. panel

A pile of chest parts; ready for test-fitting

stack-of-chest

White balance out the window – but framed now, & panels cut to size.

frame

Stock prep. Dwight lays his planes on their sides, I see.

stock-prep

what are these guys doing rooting around in my chest?

thieves

Oh, trying to suss out the till lid scenario.

tills

Tidy bevels on panels.

beveled-panels

Rick’s tool box – dynamite from 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

tool-box

Pine lid installed

lid

Back home in daylight again. Started linseed oil. A few moldings left, some drawer pulls & done. then it goes to Fuller Craft Museum for the exhibition about Plymouth CRAFT.

daylight-again

I have two more oak classes at CVSWW – a weekend of carving in May, and later in the fall, a 4-day class in making a carved oak box. Link at the top. Box dates aren’t set yet, but I think it will be late September or early October. I forget…

 

chipping away at things

 

Got a smattering of snow the other day.,..this was the view from my desk yesterday morning.

desk-window

I write blog posts around photographs, so when there’s no photos, there’s no blog. I’ve been splitting my time many different ways lately, some work (slowly) on the shop; installing cement board to shield the walls from the wood stove. Hardly worth a photo….pretty uninspiring.

One thing I have done lately is collecting some cherry crooks for spoon carving. A friend cut down a large cherry tree, and I swooped in for the upper branches. Lots of crooks there, some burls too. Those are mostly new for me, I turned a burl bowl once…but I’m going to try carving these.

crooks-hiding-in-the-snow

burl

I started two new versions of a spoon with a hook under its handle (a crook with a hook) – I dug out this one I never finished, it’s apple.

apple-hook

bark-in-bowl

A very exaggerated form here, but I was very happy with the profile. The hooks are usually/always a lot smaller than this…but I really liked the curves here. This one got abandoned because of a void in the bowl. You can see a crack with trapped bark and grit there. It’s quite deep, no way to salvage this one. So it stands as a sample…

I have two in cherry underway, (one very large one, one more sane-sized) but neither have the sinuous curve this one has. Where’s those other big crooks?

three-hooks

next-crook

In the mail a couple of weeks ago arrived two spoons – I was very pleased with the overall forms and carving, but the finial on the lighter (dogwood) spoon knocked me out…Micah Green is the carver, see his stuff on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/whittlerjoel/

two-spoons


mouse

 

This weekend I’m back in Connecticut to teach the continuing joined chest class…

better-chest-view

This time, drawers and lids. So next week, I should have a finished chest finally….it will ultimately go in the exhibition at Fuller Craft Museum – featuring the artisans from Plymouth Craft. This show will be up into June during Greenwood Fest… http://fullercraft.org/event/living-traditions-the-handwork-of-plymouth-craft/  There will be lots more about this exhibition as it comes together. One feature during the exhibition and the festival will be Jogge Sundqvist’s Rhythym & Slojd presentation. More details to come…

UPDATE – I forgot to tell you, Maureen has put some of her knitting & felted stuff on sale. Apparently spring will come at some point, so time to move some winter stuff along. Here’s the link: https://www.etsy.com/shop/MaureensFiberArts

Sale Hand knit hand dyed scarf, blue and periwinkle lace waves scarf, merino wool hand dyed yarn, woman's scarf, long

 

Teaching schedule 2017

I’m as behind as usual, but I just spent some time listing my teaching schedule as it now stands for 2017. It will be listed at the top of the blog,  – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/teaching-schedule-for-2017/  – but I’ve copied it below here for now.

In addition, I hope to offer one-on-one instruction here at my new shop. I still have a few bits to finish off first, but just wanted to let people know. there’s 2 benches, and lots of tools. As I think about format, it could be pretty flexible. Students could come for technique-based sessions, like the spoon carving or furniture carving I do. Or we could focus on a project, like the carved boxes. If anyone is interested, email me to discuss your ideas. Peter.Follansbee@verizon.net  I’ll post more about these when I am closer to being ready. Hopefully within 2 months.

snowy-view

Meanwhile, here’s the classes & more at the usual schools…

Teaching Schedule for 2017

The beginning of this year got away from me, so I am just now posting my teaching schedule for 2017. In addition to these classes, exhibition, and other presentations, I hope to offer one-on-one sessions here at my new shop. I have a little fine tuning to finish up, then I can sort that out. I picture these being either techniques, like spoon carving or  carving 17th century patterns; but maybe these could be project oriented too. If anyone is interested, they can email me ( Peter.Follansbee@verizon.net ) & we can tailor something to suit, and go over specifics.

Here’s the schedule as is stands now – there will likely be things added here & there. Right now, there’s nothing with Plymouth CRAFT other than the Greenwood Fest, and I know that we’ll do a few classes during the year. So, more to come.

 

February 18th & 19th, Spoon Carving, CVSWWspoon carving

Spoon carving class at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. This will be our first time offering this class at Bob Van Dyke’s place. It’s filling up, good winter work, inside carving spoons. I’ll bring some fresh wood, some knives – grab your hatchet & come to CT. http://www.schoolofwoodworking.com/woodworking-classes.html#Speciality_Weekend_Classes 

 

February 28-March 4, North House Folk School

Carved Decoration--17th Century English Style

 

I’ll take part in Wood Week at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, MN. It will be my first time teaching there, I was a student a few years ago, and found the school and the people to be great. I’ll be working on carving 17th-century style designs for furniture decoration and also giving a talk..  http://www.northhouse.org/programs/events/woodcarverweek.htm

 

March 18-June 25, exhibition at Fuller Craft Museum

 

OpeningReceptionPhoto

Starting in March, my work will be represented in conjunction with a Plymouth CRAFT exhibition at the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, Massachusetts. There’s an opening reception on Sunday April 9th. Details here http://fullercraft.org/event/living-traditions-the-handwork-of-plymouth-craft/ and http://fullercraft.org/event/opening-reception-for-living-traditions-the-handwork-of-plymouth-craft-and-ellen-schiffman-the-52-box-project/  There will be some more collaboration between Plymouth CRAFT and Fuller Craft, part of which happens during Greenwood Fest.

 

April 21-23, Fine Woodworking Live, Southbridge MA

I’ll be part of the group at Fine Woodworking Live in Southbridge, Massachusetts. http://www.finewoodworkinglive.com/ I’ll be doing presentations about oak joinery, including the carving. It’s quite a line-up, my first time with Fine Woodworking…

 

May 20 & 21, 17th-c style carving , CVSWW

carving detail 2

I’ll be back at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking to do a 2-day class in 17th-century style carving. This one is always fun, because we carve patterns that give Bob the creeps…he sees faces in every design. Very unsettling.

June 6-11, Plymouth CRAFT’s Greenwood Fest.

Image may contain: one or more people, tree, outdoor and food

It was such a big hit last year, we were dumb enough to do it again. Still some spaces in some pre-fest classes, and a waiting list for the festival. many got in from the waiting list last year.  https://www.greenwoodfest.org/

 

August 19 & 20, Spoon Carving at Lie-Nielsen

dave & the crook

I’ll be up at Lie-Nielsen for 2 days of spoon carving. One of my favorite trips of the year. https://www.lie-nielsen.com/workshop/USA/156

 

Late September – Make a Carved Box, CVSWW

carved box

 

We haven’t set the dates yet, but this will probably be a four-day class, around a weekend in September. We’ll carve and assemble a box typical of the 17th-century work I have specialized in for all these years. My only box class this year…details soon.

 

Oct 6-8  Spoon Carving, Woodwright’s School.

 

Peter-Spoon-Hatchet.jpg

I’ll be teaching spoon carving down at Roy Underhill’s Woodwright’s School. Fun happens there.