There is a series of a few postcards with black-and-white photographs on them from the dawn of the 20th century, showing Russian spoon makers (children, women, and men) at work. In the details of the photos, there are wooden baskets as large as barrels full of carved wooden spoons at what is dubbed in the caption as the “spoon market”. When I first saw these images, I re-affirmed for myself that whatever I think spoon making and green woodworking is about in the here and now, it has been many things to many people historically. A way to eat in more ways than one…
Some of us, myself included, occasionally mix up the art of thinking about putting our lives into a bigger, historical context, and the art of justifying our behaviors. This can have mixed results. When it comes to selling the things I make, I often price the object far below what I think I should charge for it, based on the time and effort that went into making it. Like other artists, I use all manner of contextualizing and justifying logic to support this behavior. For the customer the “worth” or “value” of an object depends on a million factors ranging from how many dollars a person has to spare, to the way the sun is shining on a spoon when a customer sees it, to their mood (nostalgic or thrifty), to their values and beliefs, to their blood sugar levels.
So what goes into the price you pay for something hand-made? There is first the cost of the making, which includes materials and paying yourself for your time. Then there is “the cost of doing business”. This is a term of art and context. It includes: fees and memberships to participate in farmers’ markets and craft fairs, rent and utilities if you run a shop, transportation, insurance if you have any, a standard 40% of your price may go to the gallery (Really!) where your object is on display, the cost of selling online, fees for your website, fees for payment processing, taxes, and the list goes on. When you begin to consider this very incomplete list, you might start to think about production, and making things faster, and maybe slipping a machine into the process to cut out a step… This is where I always stop. I know why I make spoons:
The experience of green woodworking and spoon making all hovers around the idea of connection. The old tools are a link to earlier times, and some of the tools are ancient. Each tree carries with it the past, and every part gets used. I think about how, not long ago, there was no electricity, and most everything in our material culture was “hand-made”. Making spoons makes me think a lot. I think often about how we romanticize olden ways, and how perhaps our understanding of life in the past is lacking. But then I think of what happens when the power goes out, the instant shift of peoples attitudes, their new postures of helping. I watch people walk up to see what I am doing, and see their interest and wonder. I savor the questions people ask like “why” and “how long” and “what kind”… I love that a small toolbox can be carried 100 yards into the woods beyond the reach of all things “modern” where shop can be set up on a stump. There is the wonder of the emergence of the spoon shape in a blank, and it’s evolution to the finished and dried spoon. There is the simple pleasure of oiling a spoon for the first time, re-hydrating it, and seeing all of the grain come alive. Rarely do I set out to make a specific spoon for someone, but often, when looking at my finished spoons, I know the one I will give as a gift or a donation. There are the ever present wood chips on the floor and stuck to clothes, which somehow is a protest against sterility and an acknowledgement of nature inside. It is not about production, and it is never likely to be about making a lot of money. It is about making a new tool handle and mounting it on a tool found exploring boxes of rusty tools. It is about sharing the love of something with others. It is about putting a little part of me in your kitchen.