When a young 17th century Welsh peasant wanted to show affection for his “lady love,” he carved her a wooden spoon and gave the handle a simple design, which showed his skills with an axe and a knife. Hand-carved lovespoons still exist in the 21st century. British Columbia’s David Western is an innovative, artistic carver, whose customized lovespoons are treasured by owners around the world.
“Lovespoons were meant to be admired and displayed,” says David. “My family is Welsh and whenever we visited my grandparents and aunts, there were always lovespoons and other carvings mounted on the wall. I began researching the history and started making a few spoons while I was working as a cabinetmaker. The spoons represent a connection to my roots; it’s part of my Welsh heritage.”
Wales is not the only country that has lovespoons, but is still a country that embraces the tradition.
“In Sweden, a young man would carve a simple spoon first,” says David. “Over the winter, he may have carved half a dozen or more of these and would pass them out to whomever caught his eye. If he got a response, then he would carve a more detailed spoon to show off his skills.”
“In Norway, the spoons weren’t carved at the start of a relationship, but it appeared on the wedding day as a symbol of unity. This would be a wooden spoon at each end of a long wooden chain, all carved from one piece of wood. The couple would drape the chain around their shoulders and eat their first meal together using the spoons at either end of the wooden chain. This has also been seen in Africa when some of the tribal customs were being observed and documented.”
The original lovespoons were carved from local woods. David uses woods grown in British Columbia such as western maple, yellow cedar, poplar, alder and yew. In many of David’s spoons, Celtic knot work plays a large part. The classic Celtic knot work is created from one piece of wood and is considered one of David’s artistic specialties.
Today, lovespoons sold as souvenirs in Wales and elsewhere keep this art in the public eye. Tourists purchase their machine-made souvenirs forgetting the true meaning behind them. Lovespoons are traditionally handmade with love from a single piece of wood.
Each of David’s spoons has a story behind them.
“For me, this is a wonderful job because people allow you into their lives to share their special memories,” he says. “Quirky things come out sometimes that become favourite features. I was asked to carve a spoon for an older woman whose kids wanted the spoon to tell her story. We had things that represented the kids, her husband, things she had done during the war. Twenty years ago, she had bought a pair of tiny frog earrings, which became her favourite piece of jewelry. When she examined her spoon, she immediately spotted the tiny frog carved into the handle.”
David tells of a recent Chinese client in London who is married to a Welshman. They commissioned a spoon for her brother who is getting married in Hong Kong. “What they wanted was a spoon combining the Celtic and Chinese mix. I designed the handle showing the lucky Ming dynasty knot with a Chinese dragon coming around one side and the Celtic knot with the Welsh dragon coming the other way ending with two bowls - one at each end of the Chinese and Welsh dragon’s tails. Then I got some red shoe polish, the lucky red, and buffed it until it looked like an antique. I was really happy with the results.”
Despite his full-time customized lovespoon business, David finds time to make a few special spoons for the lady who captured his heart. In the palm of his hand nestles a tiny wooden spoon carved from a small piece of olive tree.
“This is the first spoon I carved for my wife,” he says. “We had been travelling in Europe and staying with some friends in Italy. The fellow next door was clearing his olive grove and thinning out some trees. I went out with an old kitchen knife and a brick so I could hack off a few pieces of the wood. I carried this piece of wood all over Europe. Using only my penknife, I carved it into this simple spoon and gave it to my wife when we got engaged.”
No longer a male-dominated craft, more women are finding this form of carving an absorbing and fascinating art form. In his Camosun College carving classes, David finds that women tend to be better than men. “I think women are less inhibited in drafting their designs; their artistic minds are freer; they have more patience, so technically they’re better.”
Over the past 20 years, David’s enthusiasm for his Welsh lovespoons has never diminished. “I love it,” he says. “It’s the one job in my life where I wake up and can’t wait to get at it. I know my wife suffers a bit when I can’t get away from my workshop while I work my way through an intricate design or have an idea I must try out to see if it works.”
Musing, David adds, “The nicest thing about a lovespoon is you don’t have to be Welsh or any particular ethnic background to enjoy one. You just need a sense of the romantic to treasure your own unique spoon.”
David’s book, *The Fine Art of Carving Lovespoons* is available at Bolen Books, Chapters, Munroe Books and Lee Valley Tools.
OCTOBER 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND