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The 7 Weeks of Real Craft-Steeped in It

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The 7 Weeks of Real Craft-Steeped in It

jarrod dahl

 I feel very lucky to be able to do what I do for a living, making and teaching traditional handcraft, traveling around meeting who are into it, folks who are doing the same, or folks joining in on things happening here at our place. It is at times a whirlwind adventure! I feel that the past 7 weeks or so really have been the epitome of the 'Real Craft' lifestyle.

What is Real Craft? it's a term that has been bounced around just a little bit in the past by just a few folks. I intend to explore it more in the future. But until then the details without definition/context will have to do. Maybe you have some ideas of what Real Craft is? Please share them.

I've touched on the birch bark canoe build a little bit awhile back but I didn't share with you the details to our trip to the UK or some of the highlights of Lake Superior Traditional Ways Gathering we help organize and attend and other adventures.

I've added a few more photos of the canoe build. Bob, the gray haired fellow who contacted me to build a canoe for him and wanted to help with the project. It has been something that he had wanted to do for many years. I'm glad to have helped him with that part of it. Bob is an avid canoeist and paddler and by the sounds of it does many trips each year mostly in his home up in the Yukon Territories. It's a big project and with the near 2 week timeline we needed some help. My friends Greg and Emily came to help from California. While Greg mostly helped with the build Emily and April wove baskets and made other good stuff like awesome lacto-fermented cabbage a.k.a. sauerkraut. I love sauerkraut if its the good raw stuff. Yum!

As Bob's canoe project neared completion I drove April down to the National Basketry Organization's annual gathering were both she and I were slated to teach. My workshop on etched birch bark basketry cancelled due to low enrollment. So, April taught black ash basketry and I went back home to help finish the canoe project. When I picked her up a few days later I got to meet some great folks in the US basket world. It's always great talking with folks who have spend many years making and building skills. April had a blast and didn't want it to end. When I arrived to get her it was within the last few hours of the workshops. They were all in one giant room with plenty of space between workshops, some 6 workshops. I could feel the excitement and focus in the air. You could cut it with a knife. There's nothing like it really.

This was a great precursor to the other Gatherings we were to attend soon enough.

6 days after the NBO event and 4 days after Bob left with his canoe, we left for the UK. We were headed to Spoonfest. The only international gathering of spoon carvers. This was the 4th annual Spoonfest. I missed last years as I was planning on attending the Skedfest in Sweden and couldn't make both. It was great to be back especially with April.

I taught a pre-fest course before the event itself. There were 5 of us teaching. All Swedes and me. Kinda ironic in a way. The pre-fest line up was Beth Moen, Fritiof Runhal, Anja Sundberg, and Magnus Sundelin. I was and still am honored to have been teaching with them. These are all great crafts folk and makers. The event itself was full of short workshops too with many great teachers and spoon carvers. Too many to list. 

It's amazing at the level of skill and style of the spoons being made this year compared to the first year. There are so many really good spoon carvers with great talent our there. There are all kinds of cool design elements and decorative touches too. The thing I like is that you can still see the originality in the spoons. Some are inspired by things others have done and shared along the way. But still these things have the makers individual style imprinted within them. Every maker's subtle style is there in the spoon.

Again, a big group of folks all coming together around craft. Awesome. Of coarse it's not all work, work, work, we had time to visit with folks at the Pub for dinner, the event itself around the fire, random spots around the village of Edale or quieter time or at least less people at our friend Robins place.

There is a little back story too.

The first year I attended, I ended up pounding on an ash log a little and found out that it was possible that English ash could be delaminated and woven with, just like the black ash here. My friend Ben dug up some info in relation to pounded ash splint in the UK.  It was very uncommon and seemed to be only used by a few families for besom broom lashing in the UK and sieve weaving in Ireland or Scotland, I can't remember which right now. Steve Tomlin another friend and fellow green woodworker and his basket maker friend Phil went on to pound out a billet of ash maybe a year later. Everything was set to start discussions for April to teach a class over in the UK with English ash. After months of discussion and sending materials back and forth with Steve this past winter. April decided that she'd run a coarse. So the trip to the UK was two fold and years in the making for certain parts of it.

After Spoonfest we had a day rest then set up for Aprils workshop. She taught over the coarse of 2 and half days. It went really well. It was also pretty cool to be part of the possibility of starting a new basket weaving tradition. The idea is a seed and it has been planted.

We got to spend some time walking around the hills of the Peaks District where Edale lies and then a few days in the very old town of York. I had worked with my friend and fellow wood turner Paul Atkin to set up some time to see some of the very old bits or wooden cups that were found at the Jorvik site. We handled parts of wooden cups that were over 1000 years old. Being able to see parts of the shapes and the tool marks really it set something in my mind. It's hard to articulate too. But I can say that the turners using the very same lathe technology that I use but over 1000 years ago were highly skilled. It's amazing. 

There were so many details to our trip especially when thinking about the people we met, talked with, ate with, made with, etc. It's too much to write for me.

We headed home. We were back for a few day then to The Traditional Ways Gathering. This event we have been part of since it started over 12 years ago. We've been part of the organizing team for 10 of those years.

Another gathering of folks surrounded by traditional handcrafts.

Over 200 people from all walks of life. Some 40 plus workshops from a variety of basketry, hide tanning, wood carving, varies herbalism genres, knitting to dance and much more. It's all there and again an intense experience. That's all the details I can add now. 

I know this may seem to be quite a story, but craft objects and stories go hand in hand and as makers we tell our part too. If you ever listen to folks talk about there prized wooden spoons, wooden bowls, hand thrown mug, hand made knife, basket or what have you, telling stories are part of it. If folks have taken a workshop were they make things with their hands, telling stories is very much a part of that too. There is always a story, a memory.

The story is what makes these things, the handmade, an inseparable part of our very human existence. They are a part of us in this way. There is also something imparted into the object itself too. It's the Handmade. They are steeped in the story of the maker, the thoughts, feeling while it's being made. They are steeped in the thoughts and feeling of the owner or owners as well. 

It's amazing to hold objects like this and to be part of them as well. 

Look for them...they are everywhere and if you can pick them up, hold them and listen.