As one might expect there is a Facebook group for spoon carvers. It’s very active with multiple posts each day, usually with photos of recently completed spoons, bowls and kuksa, most of which display a very high degree of skill, craftsmanship and artistry. There are some great carvers out there, often with distinctive styles. Viewing the work by others is inspirational but can also create a sense of inadequacy and inferiority.
My spoons don’t quite measure up and, frankly, I haven’t felt compelled to post photos on the spoon carver’s site. This is the only exception because it is, in fact, unique.
I had the idea to demonstrate a spoon emerging from a branch. Of course, it’s rendered in a way that is opposite of the manner in which one carves a spoon and it’s still pretty rough.
All my spoons seem to be kind of rough, not quite symmetrical, uneven in thickness, imperfect. This could be discouraging were it not for the Japanese philosophy of wabi sabi.
Wabi sabi, at its essence, is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and simplicity. “…it’s an intuitive way of living that emphasizes finding beauty in imperfection, and accepting the natural cycle of growth and decay.” Recently, I collected a lot of spalted maple. It’s not greenwood and it’s hard to carve. Sometimes the wood is totally rotten and doesn’t work. But a nicely spalted piece reveals wonderful and unique patterns. Spalting is a vivid example of the cycle of growth and decay.
The spoon is perfect for manifesting wabi sabi. It is the basic tool—a small bowl with a handle useful for many applications. And, it doesn’t have to be perfect to work. It can be asymmetrical and uneven and still be appreciated. Wabi sabi works for me. I’m feeling better about my crude spoons.
Related to and evolving from wabi sabi is kintsugi, another Japanese ideal. Kintsugi it is the art of embracing damage. In bowl carving, for example, the wood can check (split). Should the piece be tossed? Or, possibly repaired? Or, just enjoyed with the imperfection being considered a part of the history of the piece.
This bowl checked badly, yet it still works perfectly as a bowl and the split adds to its character and rusticity.
At it’s essence, carving a spoon can be seen as a basic survival or homesteading skill. It is a craft. Craft can rise to the level of art but it doesn’t have to.