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Blog

Borås-Consider Volume in Craft

jarrod dahl

I'm pretty much settled in at home now. I've still got a few more posts to write about from my trip besides this one. It's nice to be back, although it's a bit chilly and the leaves are turning already. I have a feeling that this winter will be like the last, arriving early and leaving late. If that's the case I better get cutting my firewood!

When I was in Sweden, one area I was most interested in visiting was Borås. Well, it's town, but the in the greater surrounding area has a great and little know history. I first heard of it from my friends Del Stubbs, the once famous turner turned spoon knife maker and Robin Wood,  bowl turner, author and greenwood worker.

After I arrived in Borås by train, I met up with craft consultant Torbjörn Lindström. He welcomed me to the area as we walked me to my hotel. After checking in, I met back up with Torbjörn and we talked about the crafts and the main craft organizationin over a few pints at the pub. For those of you that don't know me, I'm an avid home brewer and ale drinker. I'm always ready to taste some good local brewed ales. I sampled a few of the finest craft brews in the town at the Bishops Arms, a really nice pub. This brewery was good, Borås Bryggeri.

On to volume.....

The next day I met up with one of the leading scholars and researchers in the region on wooden turned objects. Svening wrote a great book on the area turning history a few years back. I got a copy back when it was first was published as a gift from a Swedish friend. Here's the link for folks who are interested. Svening took me to a few private collectors, antique dealers as well as the museum archives to look at old wooden bowls and boxes. This was one of the highlights of the trip. Sweden is/was a wood culture. Everything is made from wood. I can go on and on about the things I saw. Many items I had to just walk by as I headed to the turned wood sections, I would not have time to see it all. After a few hours my mind was filled with shapes and sizes, and all wooden things seemed to seep into my mind. It was really too much to absorb in too little time. I did get photos and my dreams at night were filled with these objects.

The main point of history of that area that rings in my head is that it was granted sort of a peddlers rights, back in the day. The land was full of rocks and was no good for farming and it also had giant beech forests. So over the years, starting in the late 1600's until the late 1800's, over 50,000 pole lathe turned lidded boxes left the region a year! I'll repeat...50,000 turned lidded boxes. There were other things as well, turned bowls, pepper grinders but also baskets and textiles too. Until recent times the area was still the center of Sweden's textile industry. The turner's were peddlers as well, traveling around Sweden selling their wares. The turnings of Borås can be found all over the country even today in the antique markets.

50,000......a year! This number is amazing. All turned on spring pole (foot powered) lathes.

I can't help but think that we, in the modern era have forgotten our past. I'm not necessarily addressing everyone in general or the traditional craft world as a whole, but the folks that want to consider a different path. For those who think somethings off in the struggle to make craft art. Folks that want to be humble makers of traditional craft without being 'innovative' as promoted within the contemporary craft world.

It's not talked about but for 100's if not 1000's of years, the objects we have come to understand as craft objects, and objects or beauty, the objects we make....wooden bowls, spoons, pottery, jewelery, baskets, and a variety of other things, were at one time made by the 1000's. Craftsmen and craftswomen cranking it out, day in day out. A job or trade.

I know that the pottery world has still continued to use this method of production and still have a loose apprenticeship system as well, but they are but the exception at least in the western world/first world. The potters have survived the industrial revolution which replaced much of our work with machine made facsimiles. I look to that genre for a lot of insight.

My friend Barn is doing it in London, cranking out wooden spoons day in day out. Check him out here.

I come back to this idea over and over. Is it the volume that needs to be considered? Many young folks starting in this genre (spoon carving or the like) thinking that making the one off's at a really high price will pay the bills. After a few months reality sets in....there is room for very few at the top of the market, and there are a very few within that demographic willing to buy, i.e not many folks are willing to pay $350 for a sculptural spoon like object. But, there are a lot of folks willing to pay $20 (just an example price) for a nice simple spoon. So....Can it made for $20? That is the question isn't it? What does it take to make a spoon for $20? Skill and speed. They go hand in hand. Many folks starting tend to ignore this, I know I did. Who wants to make the same spoon or basket day in day out in our modern world? Nope, very few. This work is still needed maybe more now than ever.  It's got to be about being a maker, skill learned though repetition, over and over....mindless... Zen. I've only had a taste. I'm talking about a makers class with an ethos that is fine with cranking stuff out.

I'm not saying we all should make cheaply priced things in mass quantities, but we should at least re evaluate our thoughts on production.

Years ago after hearing from what some of my teachers like Del Stubbs, Ramon Persson, Robin Wood said of the process I couldn't help but listen and try it for myself. It's been a process for me which I have written about here in the past few years.

One after another, you get to try out the new ideas of design, aesthetic, technique each playing on the past, present and the potential future of each object. I can't help but to think that this is how craft evolved.

Today we have a choice. Back then the bowl turners of Borås didn't, you turned bowls like your father, day in day out or you ended up as a beggar. So, where does that leave us today? Many of us are trying to make it in the world as traditional craft makers and I can't help but think that we need to try production runs of whatever it is we make. Make quality things in quantity, efficiently with great skill and speed. It can't hurt can it?

Boxes like this were made in the 1750's by the 10's of thousands.

Boxes like this were made in the 1750's by the 10's of thousands.

both style were made in vast quantities the larger was made a little later and has a locking lid.

both style were made in vast quantities the larger was made a little later and has a locking lid.