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Friday, October 31, 2008

History of the Welsh Lovespoon

Welsh lovespoon carving of leaping frog

Welsh lovespoons trace their roots back to the 1600’s. They are hand carved tokens of love or esteem, each an extraordinary work of art.

Lovespoon carving is known to have existed in 17th century Wales, but it is believed that the custom originated even earlier. It began when young men, displaying their skill and devotion, would embellish common wooden cawl (soup) spoons with ornate designs as a way of impressing young ladies. The spoon would be presented to the lady as a gift and if accepted, courtship could begin in earnest.

After nearly dying out at the end of the 19th century, the art has experienced a revival. Spoons are now given as tokens of affection on many special occasions.

The traditional lovespoon was always carved from a single piece of wood. It’s complexity of design and the large number of hours required to craft it were viewed both as a measure of a man’s strong feelings toward the young lady who would receive the spoon and as an indication of his skill and determination.

The art developed from a simple peasant art base, with the carvers often only having an axe and a knife to work with. From this tradition, a number of simple symbols and motifs appeared which could be combined to allow the maker to convey his feelings and passion for the girl who had won his heart. The most common of these is, not surprisingly, the heart. Other common symbols include bells, horseshoes, vines, chain links, balls in cages, locks, lovebirds, and the mysterious comma shape which is believed to represent the soul.

Modern day carvers have benefited from the design possibilities found in collections of lovespoons in various museums and from an exposure to art styles and sophisticated tools unimagined in our grandfather’s day. As a result, many carvers have embraced the delightfully complicated knot work patterns found in Celtic or Islamic art. Or have used geometric shapes inspired by abstract paintings.

Today, a handmade Welsh love spoon can still embody a depth of sentiment which can never be rivaled by the cold mechanization of the diamond industry or the clichéd dullness of the commercial gift industry. No matter how simple or complex the design, a hand carved love spoon always conveys a warm message of affection.

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