As I've been compiling this little blog following the twists and turns of carving a lovespoon for the Left Coast Eisteddfod, I've received a number of emails from fellow carvers, lovespoon enthusiasts and a few people who are 'just interested' wanting to know how I got into this and what my inspirations are.I can tell you that I basically fell into lovespoon carving. Although I have been aware of what they are since childhood, and have tinkered with carving them since my teens, the really serious obsession (or as I prefer to call it, professional interest) with lovespoons is about 10 years old now.
My main inspirations were, and still are, the lovely antique spoons housed at the National History Museum of Wales at St Fagans (near Cardiff). I always make time for a day or two at the museum studying these little gems of fervent workmanship whenever I am in Wales. A finer introduction into the craft cannot be found anywhere else (except maybe in my book The Fine Art of Lovespoon Carving- how's THAT for a shameless plug??). I encourage anyone keen on lovespoons who plans on visiting Wales to make time for this marvelous museum. Even if you could care less about lovespoons, the outdoor museum is chock-a-block with tremendous things to see.
But if I were to single out one spoon which above all others has been my greatest source of inspiration and as acted as a beacon guiding me to strive to constantly improve both my carving and my design it would be this one.
For me, this spoon epitomizes all that is great about the lovespoon. Masterfully and elegantly carved, the spoon appears deceptively simple, yet every feature is flawlessly carved and the represents the very highest level of craftsmanship. If you want a spoon that 'has it all'...this is the one. Whoever the unknown craftsman was who made this brilliant offering, I sincerely hope that he won the heart of his intended and lead a long, happy and productive life! He deserves it!
After that masterwork, this little spoon may seem like the 'ugly duckling', but what I love and find so inspiring about this spoon is the passion which seems to almost emanate from its fibres! Lofty talk, I know, but despite its rather rudamentary craftsmanship and design, this spoon has tremendous emotion. Made with the simplest of tools by someone in the deepest thrawl of love, the bowl is exquisitely formed, showing an amateur carver giving it his very best effort . For 'feeling', this spoon has always rated as one of the most inspirational for me!
The last example from the St Fagan's collection is this completely over-the-top example of woodcarving virtuosity. A riot of chainwork, balls in cages, swivels and a fiendishly difficult diagonal chain pattern, this spoon was carved by a very, very serious professional. It would have taken months and months of patient and extremely nerve-wracking carving to create this magnum opus! Whenever I think I am getting fairly good at carving, I study this spoon and realize just how far I have yet to go!
But it isn't just ancient history which inspires. Recently, I had the very good fortune to meet carver Alun Davies of Wales, whom I believe carves the most technically perfect lovespoons I have ever seen. Alun's mastery of woodcarving is so complete that his spoons are almost unbelievable in their perfection. No single aspect of them is any less than stunning. In fact, the first time I laid eyes on them, I felt like I really needed to get some carving lessons and to practice a LOT more!! Alun's spoons aren't just technically staggering though, they have a soft and elegant charm which is really the root of lovespoon carving...they have feeling!!! It was Alun who told me something which has become my lovespoon carving mantra... "A lovespoon is not a lovespoon unless it is carved with love; love for the wood, love for the tradition and love for the person who will receive it." Hang that above the workbench and you have all the inspiration you'll ever need!!
My last lovespoon inspiration has probably had the most profound influence on in my lovespoon carving as he has shown me that the possibilities for the tradition are vast, varied and exciting. Mike Davies is probably the most well known of all the Welsh lovespoon carvers and for many years has been a one-man promotion for this venerable tradition. Thousands of people around the world proudly display Mike's work on their walls and for good reason....Mike was one of the first to really realize the design possibilities for the lovespoon outside the 'antique traditional'. With dramatic Celtic designs, dramatic modern pieces and delicate foliage inspired spoons, Mike's work is always adventurous. Realizing that there were so many unexplored avenues available to the lovespoon carver was probably the greatest inspiration for me and I will always be grateful to Mike for so vividly pointing that out!
I have enjoyed great generousity, cameraderie and inspiration from many lovespoon carvers over the years and I know that like everything else, the more influences, techniques and ideas are brought to a subject, the better it gets. Hopefully, one day I will be an inspiration to a beginning carver or my designs will spark inspiration for someone to take the craft another step further and that will be a very happy day for me.