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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wooden spoons? What's with that?

The other day, while she examined some lovespoons I had on display, I overheard a young girl saying to her friend, "Wooden spoons? What's with that?" Sadly, the romance and the whole love message idea of them went right over her head. Even after I valiantly tried to explain the history and meaning of them in a snappy Coles Notes version, I could tell she really didn't get it. Although the rest of the day went much better than that and the majority of visitors to my booth were effusive in their appreciation of the lovespoon tradition, that little girl weighed heavily on my mind. I'm no luddite, but I find it a little bit sad when I encounter people who would rather an Ipod or a bog-standard diamond ring to a wooden gift which has been hand made and is loaded with subtle meaning. I even understand them. Day in and day out we are bombarded with ads and propaganda telling us what to buy and what is in fashion (and let's be honest, handmade wood stuff is not particularly fashionable)...the commercial gift industry is both slick and persuasive...and after all, who wouldn't want an Ipod?

But I'm going to use the spoon shown here today to show you why some 'dime a dozen' mass produced diamond ring which may even have blood on it can NEVER compete with the power of these delicate pieces of wood.

What really makes this spoon special is something that you can't see. Rather than putting together a series of symbols or meaningful images, this spoon was designed to capture a feeling. For the couple who commissioned it, the spoon is a remembrance of a single significant event in a lifetime of memories. For you and I, it is a nice walnut spoon with a cheerful yellow cedar inlay and some nice Celtic knotwork. For them, it is the memory of a long-ago walk on a wintery moonlit night when the promises of a life-long love were made.

The spoon begins with an obvious and easily understood symbol. The heart shaped bowl signifies the unity and strength of their love joined as one. Even to those of us unaware of the true meaning hidden in the spoon, the heart lets us know this spoon is about love. The little diamond above the bowl is another traditonal theme. It is a wish for prosperity, but it indicates the kind of prosperity which doesn't come with money alone. It symbolizes the richness of a full and happy life shared with someone who has won your heart and who has given their heart in return.

Celtic knotwork is a modern addition to the lovespoon vocabulary which is often used to symbolize eternal love. While that is completely relevant on this spoon, the knots here create a valley which the couple gazed down into on that distant night. The valley came to be a significant symbol of separation for the couple when they were parted, but as they are now reunited, so the valley walls are now linked by the knotwork.

The yellow cedar inlay moon is the most significant feature of the design. Inlayed into the centre of the walnut, it is visible behind walnut knotwork from both sides of the spoon. The moon itself is carved with an 'eternal' Celtic knot to symbolize the never-ending nature of their love; its brightness against the dark grain of the walnut a reminder of the brightness and promise of that night. As the light travels down into the valley, the walnut knotwork surrounds it and acts to symbolically carry the moon's light into that winter night.

Could an Ipod or a diamond bring the magic of that night and all the feelings and emotions it holds back to our couple like this wooden spoon has? I seriously doubt it and for that I am thankful that there is wood in the world and the tradition of working it this way.

"Wooden spoons? What's with that?" Sorry kid, you're missing out.

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  2. Dave, Dave, Dave! Teenaged girls are still larva. As an ex-teenaged girl, I can tell you what sort of impeccable, discerning taste they have.

  3. I can understand your frustration. I make wood gifts as well and many people just don't get it. Why buy 1 handmade wooden pen from me when for the same price you can buy a box (or case) or plastic Bic pens that will do the same thing - write?

    You do some beautiful work there, keep the faith!

  4. Thanks for writing this, Dave. As a new lovespoon carver I'm still learning about both the technical aspects of lovespoons and especially about the meanings and emotions behind the design. The technical aspects are much easier to learn. As the techniques are not typically exclusive to lovespoons, the information is easy to find. You've just made me realize that design is not just about "stacking up" the usual symbols. The design of a lovespoon is much deeper than that. That kind of information is not so easy to find as it is so individual. However what you have done with the analysis of this spoon gives me a much deeper insight into the process of design. I would really love to see you do more of this. In fact, if you did a series of these for the blog, you would have already written a new chapter for the second edition of your book. (and, yes, I'm sure there will be one)

    Thank you so much for this post.


  5. This was a wonderful post. Thanks for writing it.

    I agree with another commentor, though. Keep the faith. That young girl will probably remember your spoons. It may not touch anything in her right now, but it may later.

  6. Dave as a poor auld Scot I could have told her I use a wooden spoon for two purposes. To stir it up and to eat the mornin' porridge. After buying your latest book I then had to go and buy some walnut. That took care of next week pension. However thanks for the time and effort you've invested in your spoon carvings.