Thursday, March 31, 2011

Last Week to Be Part of This Year's Spoon Design!

There's only one week left in our 'help design the spoon' contest! So jump up off your backside, grab a pencil, unleash your creative 'inner-self' and sort out an entry or two - one of the easiest art projects you'll ever do. Seriously, the circles we need filling are only 2 inches in diameter each!! If you've been thinking about....its time to stop procrastinating and start scribbling! You could win a book AND the admiration of all and sundry!!!! C, can do it!!!!

If you have already entered...well done!! If you haven't...keep this one important thought in mind.....once we pick the winners, you'll never be able to say, "pfffft, I could have done waaaay better"....because frankly, you didn't!!!! So get in there, scratch out some lines and be part the fun!!!!

To motivate you, here's my contribution...none of which will appear on the final product even though I'm pretty pleased with the stylized Eagle and will definitely use it somewhere. The Beaver is pretty cool but any half-way competent NW Coast artist would likely only give me a C for effort and probably wouldn't be that impressed by my handling of line and form....and the stylized leek???? Well, it didn't exactly turn out like I hoped. SO, there you go, I've hung myself out there for all to see and now its your turn to enter some really motivated ideas and consign these to the bin.

From Dave's "editor": We'll choose the winning designs next weekend so this is your last chance to submit some Welsh designs, Celtic symbols or Celtic designs and to be part of creating this incredible piece of original Welsh-Canadian art. Winning designs will be part of Dave's creation and will be displayed at the West Coast Eisteddfod Welsh-American Arts festival in Los Angeles. Submit yours and be part of Welsh Arts and Welsh Culture at this year's West Coast Eisteddfod!

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Why Lovespoons?

Recently I was asked why we carve a lovespoon each year for the West Coast Eisteddfod.  This wasn't a cheeky 'what-the-hell-do-you-want-to-go-and-do-that-for' question, but a genuine question from a non-Welsh viewer who had stumbled across the blog by accident and was curious about the custom.

So for those who aren't really familiar with the tradition and those who have been bullshitted by all the website souvenir sites, here's the lovespoon story in a very brief nutshell.

Lovespoons are but one of several wooden romantic tokens which enjoyed their heyday during the period of approximately 1650-1900. Each was carved as a gift by a lovestruck young man and would have been presented to the girl (or in some cases, girls) who had captured their hearts.   The craft flourished throughout Europe but today, is only practiced in a meaningful way by the Welsh.

Nobody knows for sure where lovespoon carving originated, but strong traditions developed in Wales, Sweden and Norway and examples have been collected from most European countries.  The oldest Welsh spoon was created in 1667 and is housed in the collection of the National History Museum of Wales at St Fagans near Cardiff.  A German spoon dated 1664 is housed in the collections of the German National Museum in Nuremburg, and as far as I have been able to tell, is the oldest dated lovespoon currently known.   It is unlikely that the custom dates back much further than the early 1600's despite wonderfully romantic theories of the custom having a direct link with the Celts of yore.   Most of the romantic wood tokens originated around the same period and both the social and economic situation of earlier times make it unlikely they date back much before 1600.

In Scandinavia the custom seemed to be for the spoons to be a bit more conservative in design than the Welsh spoons.   Many were quite simply carved and were given as 'feeler gifts' by young men who wanted to check the lay of the land and see what the reaction would be from one or more girl.  These spoons were often less elaborately carved than spoons given when the young man was more certain of his passion and expected a more positive response from the young lady of his fancy.

It has been suggested that acceptance of a lovespoon was a betrothal promise, but this has never been proven and it is far more likely that acceptance of the spoon merely indicated mutual interest and a 'green light' for a courtship to begin.

Unlike the Welsh, the Scandinavian tradition also embraced the idea of 'Wedding spoons.' Strictly speaking, these are not lovespoons in the tightest definition of the tradition as they were only brought out once the romance had been finalized by the wedding.   In Norway, an elaborate double bowled spoon connected by a long length of chain link was used when the Wedding Couple ate their first meal together, symbolizing the wife's new status as married woman and housewife.
In Sweden, the wedding spoon's purpose was often much less serious and a number of 'joke spoons' were developed for use by the couple at their festivities.   The reversed bowls found on many of the spoons would have made it difficult for the couple to eat together and would have made for a comical spectacle....especially with the wedding party likely being well fuelled by alcoholic beverages!

The Welsh lovespoon has always been the more  exuberant cousin to the European spoons though.   Generally the Welsh spoons were much less conservative in design and embraced a much wider variety of symbols.  Although it is unlikely that the spoons could have been 'read like a book' by the mostly illiterate rural folk who gave and received them, it is likely that many symbols would have been well known and would have had meaning. Hearts for love, diamonds for prosperity, keys and locks to indicate security or a heart held captive were all easily understood and as spoon carving developed, more symbols would have likely been created. Modern Welsh lovespoon carving has added a variety of 'traditional' symbols which were unknown on historical examples.....but that is tradition....always in change!

Today, handcarved lovespoons are heirloom quality gifts which are given at engagements, weddings, anniversaries and a host of other occasions where a gift of deep sentiment is required.  Although the symbolism may have changed throughout the years, the relevance of a lovingly carved spoon given with sentimental or romantic intent is as strong as ever.   As a symbol of Wales and the warmth and passion of the Welsh people, it would be pretty hard to find a more iconic tradition than the lovespoon.    So THAT is why we carve one each year.

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Sunday, March 6, 2011


Help design this year's spoon here!

I've started carving the 2011 West Coast Eisteddfod Spoon Mark III. The birch is gorgeous and cuts like butter, so I am confident that some of the crazy ideas I have for this spoon will work out. I like to shape the bowl first as it requires some heavy cutting, so if things go wrong at this stage and there is a breakage, its not such a big deal...not that there wouldn't be some fairly heavy duty swearing going on!!

I've been using my Preferred Edge bent knife which was custom made for me by Mike Komick just weeks before he suddenly passed away. It is a glorious little knife which I never tire of using, but it always reminds me how much I am going to miss Mike's remarkable skill with metal! As you can see, I glue the pattern directly to the piece I am working on. This keeps my cuts good and accurate and also keeps the wood nice and clean.

With the heart-shaped bowl roughed out, I am able to start on some of the nearby Celtic knotwork.   I use a scroll saw to do the rough cuts and then utilize my very small (but wickedly sharp) straight knife to carve the details.   With a wood as accommodating as birch, the knotwork generally comes out crisply right off the knife and very little 'clean up' work is necessary.

I've also started to frame in the first of the 3 circles which will be designed by one of the winners of our Design the Spoon Competition. I do hope that I can encourage you to have a crack at it! Even if you don't consider yourself an artist, submit an idea or two or three! Whether it is a drawing, a photo, written word or a vague idea...send it in and it might wind up on this year's spoon! The West Coast Eisteddfod is a celebration of the 'forgotten Celts' living here in North America and this little spoon is part of that. It says 'the Welsh are here' but you don't have to be Welsh to join in our fun! Anyone and everyone are welcome to contribute ideas and I look forward to seeing them!

If you are too shy or simply can't be arsed, why not consider donating a couple of bucks to the Eisteddfod instead. You could win the finished spoon for your generosity!!

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