Some years ago I wanted to make functional wooden objects in a different way, without the noise and dust and machines. After casting about I came upon hewn bowls; bowls made with axe, adze, drawknife and gouge; bowls made by hand. They required honing of my skills to make them efficiently and much honing of steel edges; they required sweat, callused hands and hard forearms. In making them I could reach back through time, and place myself in a continuum of knowledge and skill. Hewn bowls have been around a long time; the techniques and tools I use would be familiar to the Norse, as would the form and material. Having been schooled in the individualism of the contemporary craft movement, working in a traditional form without regard to uniqueness or novelty is freeing. I suppose not surprisingly in our mass produced, machine produced, world the bowls have a compelling novelty.

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My exploration into hewn bowls was largely about the act of making but also about making objects within a sustainable context and local economy – a reaction to globalized mass production. I believe there’s no better spent dollar than the one that goes for a product or service provided by someone in my community. And so the broader objective of making bowls is to provide a tradable object useful to my community, made from local materials in a sustainable way.

With trade in mind I needed a faster way of producing bowls; turning fit the objective. Unlike hewn bowls my turned bowls involve noise, dust and machines. I turn primarily functional bowls mostly from birch and maple, birch is indigenous, maple is mostly found as an ornamental tree here. I collect the wood green and rough turn it, after drying it is turned again to finished form. As with hewing, turning is all about the steel; there is a direct relationship between the sharpness of the steel and the amount of noise and dust involved. I still don’t like noise and dust and continue to develop my skills and aesthetic with the objective of reducing these elements of the work.

In the west we seem to have poorly developed language to describe the energy imparted to an object through the process of its making. There is something pervasive and soulless about the majority of objects we encounter, knowing they are merely one of the innumerable, made by nameless and faceless operators of machines who feel no connection with or even understanding of the objects they produce. Each bowl I make is the product of my knowledge and skill, eye and hand, each one is different, each exposes nature’s work in the material. Their making gives me pleasure and there’s a little sweat, blood and soul in each of them. Some say their salad just tastes better from bowls they’ve traded from me. I think there’s something to what they say because the produce I get from my local farmers’ market always makes a better meal.

So bowl making is about making objects, functional and beautiful; it’s about place, community, and sustainable economy; it’s about preserving hand skills and making things that last; it’s about doing something I enjoy and in a small way, I hope, enriching the lives of others.