Split, Hew and Shave:
The Way of the Woodshed
The Dustin Farm had a 100 foot barn that lasted well into my teens – hay loft, silo, sheep pen, milking room (insulated with flattened cardboard boxes held by roofing nails), trap door with manure pile underneath —– the usual 18th century setup, except for that modern insulation. I remember the hay rakes hanging on the wall. The big ones were called bull rakes. As a boy I was invited to shave out spare tines for them from white oak split out by my Uncle Eben. These spares would later be used as replacement teeth when those carved by my dad, uncles, grandfather and various ancestors broke. Nobody thought about who carved what, any more than any one of us would sign an axe handle. I suppose we might have seen this traditional activity as significant had we thought about it, but we didn’t.
In the early 70s, when I started splitting out spoons and selling them through the League of NH Craftsmen, the Potters adopted me (wooden spoons go with pottery). They saw how I made my spoons, noticed my reluctance to sign them, picked up on the Zen connection, and showed me that I was a folk artist in that tradition. When I read the books they recommended, and met those Zen concepts like The Conscious Unconsciousness, Wabi Sabi, The Seventh Kenzan, The Unknown Craftsman, “just a good cup of tea,” and especially Hamada’s definition of folk craft: “locality, utility, and the lack of overemphasized individualism” (which must be more poetic in Japanese), it was, like, no problem: the shoe fit.