Norwegian Wedding Spoons
A while back, I was fortunate to receive a lovely set of antique Norwegian wedding spoons from my friend the renowned spoon collector Norman Stevens. I was immediately fascinated by them and set to work making a copy. They turned out to be a lot tougher to make than I had thought and it took several attempts, much cursing and stomping around and a fair pile of wood before I mastered the trickier of the skills needed to carve one of these beauties.
Once I felt that my work was decent enough to show on my website, I put up a photo of a nice little set and was astounded when they sold almost before I'd had chance to close the computer! That encouraged me to make another set which also sold quite quickly and with that, the die was cast. Since then, the word seems to have gone out, especially among the Norwegian expat and descendant community in North America and I have become something of a 'go to' guy for Norwegians looking to reconnect with an aspect of their wedding tradition.
As a Welshman struggling to keep the lovespoon tradition relevant in our modern era, it has been both heartwarming AND frustrating. Heartwarming because the Norwegians seem to treat their traditions with much more interest and respect than many of my fellow Welshmen so it is nice to see something which was dying out being welcomed back again. Frustrating, because as a non-Norwegian who can't speak the language, it means I am dependent on the generosity and kindness of Norwegian speakers to fill me in on the details of this lovely tradition. I have been very fortunate to have received LOTS of helpful information from the Norsk Folkemuseum in Oslo and from the Vesterheim Museum in the United States. Both have helped me access pictures of original spoons and have filled in some of the blanks around the cultural practices involved with Norwegian weddings and wedding spoons.
From what I have been able to gather, the spoons were brought out on the second or third day of the marriage 'ceremony', during which time they were used by the wedding couple to symbolically share a first meal as man and wife. It was a more solemn occasion as a small parade of relatives, accompanied by a fiddler, would deliver a bowl of porridge to the seated couple. The couple would then use a bowl each to eat at the same time, the chain joining them both as they ate and as a pair. The ceremony also saw the young woman's social status be elevated from 'girl' to 'housewife'. Maybe not something to look forward to today, but back then, a significant change for the woman.
The spoons are a challenge to make. The chain link is all carved from one piece, so it is time consuming and fiddly work. Contrary to the internet legend, I have yet to discover an antique set that was carved handles and chain from a single piece of wood. That would be a MAMMOTH undertaking and one which you'd have to be both brave and very, very lacking for things other things to do with your time. Every example I have seen has the handles and chain carved separately and then carefully joined to make the joint as invisible as possible. Unless you are prepared to pay several thousand dollars for a spoon that would otherwise cost 300, don't make a big deal out of it all being carved from a single piece.
There is a significant amount of work goes into each chain and this has an effect on the final price of the spoons. A simple set with an unadorned chain (as in the first of these two pictures) can sell for about 250 USD. When the chain gets the X treatment, the spoons go up to about 300. If you get fancy with adding balls in cages etc., the sky is the limit.
The spoon bowls would often be decorated with delicate Kolrosing. In this technique, a finely etched line is filled with coal dust or coffee fines to bring up the nice detailing. I use a penetrating oil on mine to give a soft brown line and to avoid the hassles of dust working itself into places it is not wanted. Some of the Kolrosing on historical examples is a work of art in its own right, but many have a simple floral motif such as the one seen above.
In our more modern times, it is possible to 'play' with tradition a bit. To this end, it is possible to make traditional wedding spoons which perhaps aren't so traditional. In this example, a very traditional Norwegian design forms the top handle and a traditional Swedish design the bottom handle. Made for a Norwegian/Swedish (with a hint of Irish in the mix) wedding, the spoon retains a very tradition feel but becomes more relevant for both bride and groom.
Taking things a step further, the couple's passions become the focus of the design. She is a marine biologist and he a keen astronomer and they are represented by whimsical designs based around those themes. The chain links are more sculptural and 'modern' in form to keep with the contemporary feeling of the spoons.
Although many of the traditions have changed and the meal ceremony probably never happens any more, the spoons are commonly used for the matrimonial couple to enjoy that first piece of wedding cake together. (although the spoons are delicate, so I don't recommend any cake fights!)