Recently, I watched a couple of Spoonclub videos with Deborah Schneebeli-Morrell and Barn. I had been wanting to interview more women who are spoon carving and I was really struck by Deborah’s comments about the emotional benefits of woodworking in one of the videos, so I contacted her and she was kind enough to answer my questions.
Tell us a little about yourself:
I trained in fine art and have exhibited my work… paintings/collage for many years. I have also written many craft books on a range of subjects and materials. I have always been interested in the meaning of making and the significance of objects. I love to discover new techniques and materials and to make useful and beautiful objects that can improve and enhance my life and those of others.
How long have you been carving and how did you first get interested in it?
I have only been carving spoons for about two and a half years. I was introduced to it by a dear friend who has now sadly died… We went to a day course together with EJ Osborne and I then went to a similar course with Barn the Spoon…… Going to Spoonfest and taking classes with significant makers has really has really helped my progress.I now try to make a spoon a day.
I have been carving little wooden figures for much longer, perhaps 25 years and through doing that I learnt about different woods and how house a knife efficiently.
Do you really make a spoon every day and why the deep need to make things?
I try to make a spoon a day…if I miss a day then I will catch up by making two the following day. I have always made things, ever since I was a young child. I can create a world of my own…I can be lost in making and when a spoon or another object works, I feel good, it embodies my ideas, my creativity and it reflects back the part of me that is good and OK.
I was really struck by your thoughts about spoon carving and mental health when I heard your conversation with Barn. Talk a little more about how a spoon is the reflection of the good in the maker.
You somehow know when something is right in the object that you make, its shape, design, decoration and function. When all this comes together in a spoon, for instance, it alters you a bit…. You know that from an impulse… something imagined by you…..you have used your skill, experience and imagination to create an object outside yourself… an object that embodies the process of making and all its intents…. from your internal world to its separate life as an object. When you hold something that was was once only an idea… and you are pleased with it, it reflects back at you all the ‘good’ things about you. It has a psychological function as well as a practical one. It can make you ‘better’ and than can make you healthier and happier too.
What is object relation and how does that fit into the world of spoon carving?
I don’t think I am really qualified to explain this very well but I will have a go
Object Relations is a psychoanalytic theory and I am interested in the work of Donald Winnicot who focused on early childhood experiences. I am interested in his theory of the Transitional Object… a baby’s first aesthetic choice, a blanket or a teddy or something that becomes symbolic and bridges the internal world with the mother to the external world ahead as the child develops.I do think of the things that I make as ‘transitional objects’ that have a function, they can provide safety, protection and reassurance as well as being useful to eat porridge with!
What are a few of your favorite spoon carving tools?
I have a lovely axe that was was restored by a friend. The axe head was made in East Germany between the wars and is just the right shape and weight. My friend made an ash handle from tree that grew near our allotments in north London. I use the Mora 106 and 120 and some special knives from Tomio Imaru in Japan… we did a knifes/spoon swap. I have a special finishing knife by Sean Hellman which I really love. My favourite spoon knife is by Wood tools from Robin Wood and I am lucky enough to have a couple of Nic Westerman which I have inherited from my friend.
Any suggestions for books or websites to learn about spoon carving or woodwork?
Are there any particular spoon carvers who inspire you in your work?
There are so many and so many that I don’t know…… I see lovely stuff all the time on Instagram.
Any tips for new spoon carvers based on what you have learned?
Just put in the hours…. do a course with a good spoon carver…. look at other peoples’ spoons… buy spoons from makers… copy spoons… join a spoon club…. again just put in the hours.. you will get better.
Based on your experience, apart from letting your work speak to the crowd, what suggestions do you have for someone who is new to the spoon carving world, yet eager and excited to be part of it? How can you best join the community of carvers?
Facebook (spoon carving, green woodworking and slöjd) and Instagram are good for reference and interesting spoon discussions. Do a course first learn the basics especially about knife holds and safety. Join a spoonclub in your region… these are often held monthly. Here in London you can join a live, weekly spoonclub as well as become an online member where you can view the fabulous archive of interviews that Barn has done with notable makers.
How have your spoon carving techniques changed over time?
The more I do the easier it becomes and the better the outcome. I still have a lot to learn.. you can never stop learning. I am more confident and my experience means I can now make the spoon I intend to make!
What are your thoughts on popular decorative techniques like milk paint, kolrosing, or chip carving?
I haven’t done much but I am intrigued …. I aim to try all these and see if I can make the techniques my own. This week I am going to do a course with Adam hawker on Chip carving and kolrosing.
Talk a bit about roasting spoons. I wasn’t familiar with until I explored your Instagram posts. Please talk about your technique and what woods are especially good to roast.
Its so simple there is really to much to it. I did it at first to strengthen a spoon that had some spalting….I find it good when the grain on wood is not very interesting like lime or willow. But I love to roast holly….it goes beautifully dark and develops a sort of patina of age. Best thing is to experiment. Different woods take the baking very differently, some woods you wouldn’t bake because the grain pattern or colours so beautiful.
I bake at 200 degrees Celsius for up to an hour checking every 20 mins or so to see how the colour darkens. Remove from the oven and whist still hot apply walnut oil. The heat makes it penetrate deeper.
What do craft, sloyd, and wood culture mean to you?
An ancient, archaic craft that connects me back to all those makers that have gone before.
In your spoon carving, you really explore the different varieties of wood. I think you told Barn that you may have carved 50 or more varieties of wood. What fascinates you about wood?
Its always a discovery, splitting open a log and finding how beautiful the grain is. I like to know how and where the tree or shrub grows….. to feel connected to it. I love trees and the natural world…. its all connected.
In addition to spoon carving, you garden, make collages and dolls, and write among other interests. How do you balance making different things while improving your spoon carving? What else would you like to make or do that you haven’t tried yet?
I worry about all the things that I want to do and there not being enough time. I have a big collection of rusted iron objects, found, dug up, I want to make some sculpture with them in combination with wood… I would like to know how to do welding!
But there is so much that I would like to try… the world of craft is endless fascinating… as long as I am engaged and interested then I suppose I am OK.
Why has spoon carving taken priority over your your other art forms?
I can’t easily answer that… Its very condensed, you don’t need much, space or tools you can do it anywhere….. Its just what I do now at this time in my life.
If you had to pick few songs to listen to while carving, what would they be?
English traditional folk songs or classical music
Where can people find you online? And how can they buy your spoons?
I don’t have a website yet…I hope to this year…. I need help from a younger person!! but DM me through instagram.
Any final thoughts on pursuing a craft like spoon carving?
Its very rewarding and enjoyable and the spoon carving ‘community’ is very friendly. Other spoon carvers are very generous and will help. Its nice to use your home made spoons and give as presents… They are always so much appreciated.
Thanks Deborah! As I have said previously, my goals with this website are to learn more about spoon carving and connect with the great community of spoon carvers out there. I welcome carvers to contact me if you would like to be interviewed to share your thoughts on the craft of spoon carving.