The old English word for household items such as spoons and kitchen utensils that are made out of wood is TREEN … a word that also implies woodworking that was possibly undertaken outdoors, out in the woods, but was certainly the sort of task undertaken in the farm or village workshop.
At northmodern Søren Ulrich had a large squared-off block of timber that was standing upright as part of his display. It had a series of round holes drilled carefully and deliberately in a line just below the top.
While Søren was answering questions from someone else I stood looking at the block - curious and slightly perplexed. Given that there were a number of clamps on or near the block Søren must have thought I was either rather naive or even pretty thick when I asked what the holes were for. He took up one of the clamps and instead of a pad at the opposite end to the part that screwed in and out - the sort of clamp I have used - there was a prong or spike pointing horizontally out which was slotted into one of the holes and then the screw part tightened down to clamp a piece of wood … so in fact this block of timber was a transportable work bench to be used for carving.
Recently, Søren has made a range of wooden bowls and spoons and ladles and so on … treen. Some of these were in the display at northmodern with various pieces of wood showing the different stages of the production … the first a roughly-shaped piece of wood, the second after an initial work with a plane, the next marked out with the shape of the proposed implement in pencil. As, at that point, there was no one else wanting to speak to Søren, he picked up one of the marked out pieces and clamped it to the top of the bench and started deftly to form a spoon.
It was hardly surprising that, as he worked, a crowd formed to watch but I tried to take photographs of the sequence.
Søren used a series of gauges and chisels to hollow out the shape, quickly swapping from one to the next, supporting the piece with a thumb as he cut down and round, using the angle of his body to lean into the cut, using body weight to provide the force but his hands to guide the cutting edge.
This must have been much like it would have been watching a village carpenter in the 19th century or the 18th century or the 17th or, in fact, any country carpenter back through the Middle Ages supplementing his income and using smaller pieces or off-cuts of wood between the jobs for local families making them benches or tables or chests.
That’s not to say that the spoons and bowls and ladles made by Søren Ulrich are some sort of charming curiosity of a rural craft that is more part of a museum demonstration than anything else because the shapes and forms of his pieces are distinctly modern … just that they are very much part of a long and admirable tradition.