We take the spoon shape for granted. It’s so common and ubiquitous. From a high school physics standpoint we can see it as a lever. It’s the cooking version of the same shape we use for a shovel or garden trowel. There’s a bowl and a handle. From there the permutations are endless. That’s possibly what makes spoon carving so much fun.
If one searches for “carved wooden spoons” on Google Images or Bing Images the variations are amazing. Skim quickly through the photos on this website. Norwegian designer Stian Korntved Ruud made a spoon a day for a year with riffs on the spoon/handle and comes up with a mind boggling display of sculptural, if not useful, shapes. From a design standpoint his work is inspirational and now properly resides in a museum.
We can put aside the argument as to whether this work is art or craft. He’s obviously taken design of the spoon to a different level. Sort of carving jazz.
For most spoon carvers the object is to make a spoon that is useful and pleasing to the eye. There are different categories: cooking, serving, eating. Spoons from any of these categories can be very plain or carved in a way to make them more interesting. They can be long or short, thick or thin. They can be decorated using techniques like chip carving or kolrosing. They can be painted or soaked in natural liquids like tea or beet juice. They can be inlayed. They can be baked or even burned.
Carvers who are in the business of selling their spoons can design for production, splitting wood into blanks of equal size then making multiple versions from the same template.
Right now, I’m in a mode where each spoon is different depending on the wood available, the size of the wood and the type of wood. I have a few templates and am creating more but the tendency is to let the wood decide what it wants to be. It’s fun to get carried away with decoration and variation but it’s easy to go too far. “Spoon” should be in quotes because the same basic techniques can turn out forks, spreaders, knives, spatulas, pie servers, etc.
A lot of the “eaters” that expert carvers post on Facebook seem to have bowls that are too big for your mouth. Occasionally, I have tried to carve a small spoon. One that can actually be used to eat with. The bowl has to be shallow and thin to feel right in the mouth. This is a quest that might continue for a long time.
Robin Wood is one of the best spoon carvers and wrote an essay titled “20 of the best wooden spoons in the world.” He says, “Each (spoon) is a functional sculpture.” And as he discusses 20 great spoons from his personal collection he comes to an eating spoon by a fellow named Fritiof Runhall who “…explained how he had been studying the spoons he had made over the previous 10 years alongside old spoons in museums. He came to the conclusion he did not like any of his spoons. It is only through this sort of self criticism and deep analysis that you get to be the best…”
Good design is an ongoing process.