Context is Important

This is good....

A few weeks ago I taught a 3 day pole lathe turning and a 2 day spoon carving workshop in upstate New York. I've been back home for awhile now and I'm still reflecting on my experiences from the trip. There is something about meeting new folks, carving together and sharing stories about life and craft that strikes a deep feeling in me.  These experiences solidify the many facets of what I call Realcraft.  It's the people, food, stories, skills, life, the sharing, etc.. the real life backstory to the images on your favorite social media platform or "how to" video on Youtube, blog, etc... that defines Realcraft for me.  I find that the information age and all that comes with it, at times, depicts the craft objects separate from the whole story.  I don't think it's intentional, it's by default, unless we go out of our way to explain it or to look for it.  But I do think that when taken out of the full context - craft is misunderstood or over simplified. There are many angles to craft but at the least I like the story to include us, the folks, and our individual context we bring with it, whatever that might be.

We make things for different reasons. This is a fact. As a professional, I may have very different reasons for making the things that I sell than someone who is enjoying the weekend sitting around carving spoons as a way to relax between family life, work, and all the other stuff daily life brings. At some earlier point those reasons may have been the same.  It's hard to say without individual personal dialogue and I dare not assume.  Some of the reasons for making could be parallel,'s complex. But when I continually search for folks like me, I come up short. There just aren't that many folks that take the professional road. This is ok as it's the way it is.  But when I want to talk about turning handled cups on a pole lathe with someone else on a technical level, as a peer, there are only two others that I've the world. I've looked long and hard.  One is in the UK (my friend Robin Wood) and the other in Spain, but he doesn't speak very good English and never replied to my inquiries. There might be more but either way...not many. To be clear, this is my context, with no intended offense to anyone who makes for other reasons.  I'm looking for folks who have put skin in the game in a similar way as I have.  Earlier this winter, after I stated I was probably the only person in the world making a turned wooden flask that day, I was asked by Charlie Ryland, a craftsman who was staying with us, "how it felt?" to which I replied, "lonely".  I don't think it was the reply he was expecting. While at first thought one would think it's special to be the only one, I don't.  I'm very interested in the rise of the traditional craftsperson, and on a professional level. There needs to be more of us.  But this takes time.

That's the backdrop to what's context should be clear.

Derek Sanderson is someone I met over the internet within the green woodworking social media network. We had a few personal dialogues via Facebook messenger before we met face to face. Derek and Oliver Pratt (another very talented spoon carver) both stopped by to visit before The Spoon Gathering last June. They traveled about 250 miles out of their way to visit.  This is the problem with the U.S. in that it's way too big.  They still found the time to stop by and we fell right into it, carving and turning, too.  It is always good to meet face to face as it brings the context to the written words.  I find considerable enjoyment with meeting folks in 'real life'.  Going out of our way to meet face to face is important and I pay close attention to those that do go out of their way to participate.  It ties back to the Realcraft ethos.  For me, folks that are putting skin in the game are worth paying attention to.

Derek put me up for my stay in New York and after my arrival and an hour or so of catching up I noticed the hundreds of spoons sitting delicately on top of Derek's cabinets with all the tips of the spoons peeking out. There was also a big basket of spoons in the background. It hit me as he handed me one of his current spoons that all these spoons have lead up to the spoon in my hand!  This was Derek's continuum of spoon carving progression.  In comparison, I sold all the spoons I made over the years, as I made them.  I have no body of work to look at or to be reminded of the progression that happens, save for memory or photos that I never really look at. But here was a makers progression...all intact, there to see, and handle.  I was taken aback.

The spoon Derek handed me was a really nice spoon; I'd say exceptional in many ways. I recognized this instantly but I also knew that there is always more to the discovery - things I cannot see or recognize instantly. These subtle things become clear with time and use.  This is the tacit part of it.  I own a few of his past spoons that he's carved over the past few years.  The experience from their use also adds to and ties to the present comparison, or story.  As I write, I've used this latest spoon fifty times or more and while used it was fondled and studied.  I'm still a bit blown away by how nice the spoon is and then I remember all the spoons on the cabinets. 

Over the 4 years Derek has been carving spoons, he's made about 1400 of them.  He's saved nearly all of them. For whatever reason Derek's context is for carving all these spoons - I won't go into here. You can ask him yourself if you meet him. Being able to see what led up to his most current spoons is a pretty rare opportunity and I really enjoyed seeing this. This may also be a context folks tend to forget about with all the quick images that we see every day. If you want to be good at something it takes time, practice, and dedication, but I'd also add honesty, humility, and knowledge of the backstory, too. Whatever the combination is, the fact is, there is a context in all our stories that we need to consider.

Thanks for the spoon and sharing your story Derek!

Derek's spoons on one cabinet

More spoons from the other cabinet

Derek's sweet spoon with lot's of subtle curves

Derek's sweet spoon with a few carefully chosen engraved lines

Derek's sweet spoon more curves but not to much....

Jarrod Dahl11 Comments