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…)

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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.

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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.

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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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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.

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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/ 

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…

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.

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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.

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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?

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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/

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

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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

 

a fest, a chest, some spoons

scribing

First off, the Greenwood Fest http://www.greenwoodfest.org/ sold out in just about 1 day.  There are still spaces in several of the pre-fest courses; scroll down on the link to read about those offerings. If you missed a ticket to the fest, do get on the waiting list. June is a long ways off, lots can happen between now & then. Last year, many on the waiting list got in. Maybe all. Thanks to all who support Plymouth CRAFT’s programs, we appreciate it. A special hearty thanks to Paula Marcoux, who runs Plymouth CRAFT, organizes the festival and created the website – and answered every question sent to Plymouth CRAFT …and on & on. The rest of us just goof around, Paula does all the work.

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In the workshop, I’m getting prepared for this weekend’s edition of the joined chest class at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. http://www.schoolofwoodworking.com/  I’m going to assemble the chest I’m working on, so the students can see what happens when they get to that step. First, I make a lot of tapered oak pins. Shaved, not driven through a dowel plate. These pins are the most critical part of the joinery. They need to be straight-grained, and cleanly cut.

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And I need a lot of them. I think 56 in this particular chest. Some are already driven; the front is mostly assembled.

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the photo at the top of this post shows me scribing the pin hole on the side rails’ tenons. Here, I’ve knocked those joints apart enough to get in there & bore the holes in the tenons.

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Then drive the pins home. driving-pins

The shoulder pulls up nice & tight.

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I’ll cut & fit the till and install the floor during the class. I’ll try to get shots during the weekend.

SPOON-CARVING –

I carved some spoons recently – one a shape I’ve carved many times – here is the new spoon alongside one about 10 years old. Similar shape, one with a nice broken-in feel, the other brand-spankin’-new. Both birch, both flax oil finish. that’s what using them does to them…I like the look of time & use… I think it also helps to know as you’re carving spoons that what the color & grain look like today is not what they will look like down the line.

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Greenwood Fest Instructor: Pete Galbert

I’ll just do two of these today, then registration opens this morning at 10 am eastern time. http://www.greenwoodfest.org/  – then it will be back to actual pictures of woodworking on the blog, some joinery & carving. wait til you see it…

I’ve got a lot of mileage out of a remark that I make in classes, and I’ll get it over with here. “I hate Pete Galbert” I tell students all the time. They are shocked, and lean in so to not miss some juicy rant…but in the end they are disappointed. It’s just that he’s written the best woodworking book I know, & illustrated it himself. Makes it hard for those of us with books in the works. There, that’s out in the open, now we know how I feel.

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Pete, in case you have somehow avoided his work – is right up at the top tier of American chairmakers. He & I have  known each other for several years now, travelling on the same circuit/circus – Lie-Nielsen, Lost Art Press, etc. So we’d bump into each other once or twice a year, but it’s always brief, then we each go off to our demonstrations & classes. He’s moved to Massachusetts now, but we still haven’t got together – he’s always off somewhere, teaching people to make chairs.

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two views of crest carvings; before & after burnishing & oiling

Pete’s one of those woodworkers who is always improving. He does not just keep repeating what he does, but tinkers with techniques, tools (he’s developed some great chairmaking tools) construction – his work is always evolving. He & I have not sat down & figured out exactly what he’s doing in the festival, but I know it’s worth seeing. A great teacher & chairmaker, this will be his first time with Plymouth CRAFT, we hope it’s the beginning of something. Oh, & he’ll probably bring that great book of his too. You should get it if you haven’t already. Every time I look at it, I’m itching to make a Windsor chair again.

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I swiped all these photos from his website (the top one is old, not sure he keeps goats in Boston)  – http://www.petergalbertchairmaker.com/  and here is Instagram https://www.instagram.com/petergalbert/

the book https://lostartpress.com/collections/books/products/chairmakers-notebook

Greenwood Fest Instructor: Darrick Sanderson

Rick McKee would be ashamed as I mix sports metaphors, by referring to a pinch-hitting hockey player – but last summer Darrick/Derek Sanderson stepped up as a pinch hitter at Greenwood Fest and knocked it out of the park. Off the ice? I’ll shut up now & get on with it.

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In addition to turning bowls on the pole lathe, Derek is a spoon carving phenom. I heard recently (I forget where) that there are days when he hardly carves any spoons. Just 4 or 5. A good week’s output for me! In April 2016, Jarrod wrote about a visit out to Derek’s place, where he saw the entire arc of Derek’s spoon carving –  “Over the 4 years Derek has been carving spoons, he’s made about 1400 of them.  He’s saved nearly all of them.” That’s a staggering number of spoons!

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Derek will be manning the pole lathe part of the time, just like he did last year; turning bowls, teaching, explaining techniques – I remember it seemed as if he woke up and started woodworking in the next breath. Always with a crowd around him. So we’re quite pleased to bring him back this season.

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Derek’s Instagram is here: https://www.instagram.com/dcsandersoninc/