Country Workshops
Large Bowls
With Drew Langsner
(Reprinted from Oct. 2000 Woodwork magazine)
In 1976 Swedish woodworker Wille Sundqvist traveled to the United States as a curator and demonstrator of a Swedish handcrafts exhibit in New York City. When the exhibit closed, Bill Coperthwaite (of the Yurt Foundation in Bucks Harbor, Maine) took Wille on a personal tour to visit several woodworkers in the eastern states. Our farmstead in the mountains of western North Carolina was the last stop of their journey. 
During a few days with Sundqvist, I began to learn the ancient skills of working wood with a keenly sharpened sheath knife, axe, and adze. Sundqvist, who grew up on a farm in northern Sweden, is a master craftsman and teacher. We spent several days carving spoons from hardwood saplings, and also a large bowl made from a split poplar log. We have been friends since that first meeting. 
On a traditional Swedish farm, carved bowls have many uses, ranging from simple, utilitarian items such as animal feed troughs, to special, ornately carved "ale geese"-bird-like vessels used to serve ale at farmhouse weddings and other celebrations. The bowls that I carve are generally used for serving salad or other food. 
Since I always like making things that are functional, I find bowl and spoon carving to be highly appealing. But the better traditional Swedish spoons and bowls also bring a challenging degree of fine art to a utilitarian craft. The traditional forms of these objects are the result of countless generations of woodworkers' attention paid to every detail. They not only work well but also look and feel wonderful. And they are the type of thing that you continue to appreciate and love after many years of use. 
I am also attracted to the actual work of making a fine piece with an axe, adze, and a few gouges. This is the "craftsmanship of risk" that David Pye wrote about in his classic small book, The Nature and Art of Workmanship. In this type of woodworking, the handmade object develops during an interplay of the craftsman, a few basic tools, and the raw material. Your skill, knowledge, hands, and eyes work together, without the interference of fenced tools, jigs, or electric motors. This is about as far from machine-made woodworking as one can get. I love it! 
Shortly after the tutorial with Sundqvist, my wife and I discussed the possibility of inviting Wille back to teach a course in carving Swedish woodenware. I wrote a letter to Wille, and a while later we received a message saying that he would come. We were sure that other people would also be interested, so we scheduled two 5-day sessions. This was the beginning of Country Workshops, a small crafts school that I have been running since 1978.
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