I’ve been a fan of Cole Holliday’s spoon carving since I first followed him on Instagram. Cole is humble guy with a kind heart. I had the pleasure of meeting him when he was visiting Minneapolis for a concert this past Fall and he was nice enough to deliver a pair of walnut chop sticks to me. He also shared advice with me as I built my spoon mule. It’s always a pleasure to talk with Cole, so I’m grateful that he was willing to share his thoughts on the following questions I had for him.
Tell us a little about yourself:
My name is Cole Holliday. I’m 47 years old. I live with my wife and 2 kids in Wausau, WI. We have 2 dogs and live in a quaint neighborhood. My wife and I both work part-time in the healthcare field. I am a Registered Nurse at a hospital. We have 2 dogs, and we are homeschooling our preschooler and first-grader.
How long have you been carving and how did you first get interested in it?
I came across a picture of a handcarved spoon on Instagram, sometime in 2015 or so. My wife and I both became interested in spoons and started sending each other tags or posts or whatever, and then I came across Jarrod Dahl’s profile, and followed the link to his website. I was so excited that he lived to the north of me, about 2 1⁄2 hours by car! Anyway, many months later, on my birthday 2016, my wife informed me that she had been in contact with Jarrod for many weeks, and that she had arranged a one-on-one carving lesson at Jarrod’s homestead in Odana. I remember the morning of the first lesson and he said, “Okay, so what tools do you have, and what do you know, how long have you been carving?” and I was like, “I don’t have any tools, I whittled as a kid, and I’ve never carved a spoon!” He said “PERFECT!” and that was that – I was on the path, and Jarrod began with “The Way of the Knife.” I had a killer couple of days with him. It was really cold with lots of snow that year, and I slept in the Yurt that was also the workshop and where the lessons took place. So this February I will have
been carving for three years.
What are a few of your favorite spoon carving tools?
How has the spoon mule that you made impacted your spoon carving? Any tips on building one?
The mule is a beast. I have really enjoyed learning how to use since completing the build last August. I got to explore the thing on my own for about a month and was then fortunate to spend time with Dawson Moore aka Michigan Sloyd, and had the pleasure of learning from the man himself.
Carving on the mule has opened my eyes to a whole new way of carving, and it has allowed me to understand more clearly the fundamentals of spoon carving. Building it was a big deal for me, as I’ve never built anything like that before. I cut all the lumber in a friend’s shop with a table saw and a chop saw, so I actually cut all the parts for two mules and planned on building a second one from the get go but I only assembled one of them. It’s been almost six months, and the thing has been broken in nicely. I’m looking forward to building the next one now that I know what to expect in the build, but also because I understand now how the spoon mule works.
Any suggestions for books or websites to learn about spoon carving or woodwork?
I followed Jarrod’s suggestion which was to read Swedish Carving Techniques by Wille Sundqvist. I recently bought Slöjd in Wood by Wille’s son, Jögge. I am so impressed by it, and almost think it’s a better starting point for a new carver. I also have Spon by Barn the Spoon, and that is an excellent book as well.
Are there any particular spoon carvers who inspire you in your work?
Yes, there are many. Jarrod Dahl, Dawson Moore, Tom Bartlett, Derek Brabender, Fred Livesay, Tom Dengler, Darrick Sanderson, Jane Mickelborough, Mike Loeffler, Liesl Chatman, Pat Diette, Dane Licina, Yoav Elkayam, Emmet Van Driesche, Fiona Glover, Tim Dennison, Dierdre and Aaron, Adam Hawker, to name a few. There’s a ton of great carvers out there, more than we’ll ever know. I think about all the folks that AREN’T on Instagram…..
Any tips for new spoon carvers based on what you have learned?
The best tip I could offer a new comer would be to take a class with an experienced teacher, go to a spoon carving gathering, or find a carving club or group. Also, to sharpen and strop more than you might think you need to. I have learned so much from spending time with other carvers, watching how they do things, and listening to people talk about their experiences, process, etc.
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?
Just do it. Fishing for a good time starts with throwing in your line….
You seem like someone who is very humble. How do you let go of ego or self as you learn and pursue craft?
Thank you, that’s very kind of you to say. I tell people I got my good looks and humble nature from my father. But seriously, I try not to take myself too seriously and keep my ego in check. You’ll never hear me describe something I’ve made as “signature” or “trademark” or “wildly popular”, but if I’m really pleased or excited about how something I’ve made has turned out, I may remark that I’m proud of it, or that I’m stoked. I pursue craft out of a desire to learn, and because of the satisfaction I get out of making things.
How have your spoon carving techniques changed over time?
As my axe and knife skills develop, my techniques have changed. The more I carve the more I try and understand grain orientation in combination with understanding knife grips, posture, body mechanics, etc. and what kind of feedback I’m receiving from the tool and the material I’m carving. Learning to take longs, slow cuts is something I have come to enjoy. I wasn’t able to make cuts like that initially, it took time to learn. My techniques are constantly evolving. As my axe skills have developed, my process for roughing out a blank has changed, and so on and so forth.
What are your thoughts on popular decorative techniques like milk paint, kolrosing, or chip carving?
I’m reading Slöjd in Wood by Jögge Sundqvist and he says to to go all in and not to hold back when it comes to painting and decorating your creations, and I love that. I’ll admit, I’ve been pretty conservative when it comes to decorating my own stuff. I love the way chip carving and kolrosing looks, but I don’t feel like I do either of those things with confidence.
What do craft, sloyd, and wood culture mean to you?
It means more to me than I know how to describe at this time. Life before I carved my first spoon was so different. Basically, learning how to carve has been a life changing thing. My life has not been the same since being introduced to “the way of the knife”, and for that I am so grateful.
In addition to spoon carving, you weave birch and bake bread 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?
Well, I have a lot of interests and the further down the slöjd rabbit hole I go, the less time I have for many other things, so it’s all about balance. I have dabbled in making things from bark, though life is busy and I can’t do it all. I believe I can do just about anything, but I can’t do everything. I don’t know how well I balance things, but I know I overextend myself from time to time. Unfortunately, what that looks like is that I stay up too late carving so I’m not getting enough sleep, or I have to nap, or take another nap even, and then I’m not spending enough time with the family or I’m not pulling my weight with the kids… So like most people I’m just trying to find work-life-sloyd balance and there’s not enough time in a day.
In one Instagram post, you wrote about “spreading the word” by talking about process, sharing your work, and introducing young people to carving. Please talk a little more about that.
It was actually spreading the WOOD, which is a phrase I picked up I think at Milan. You get a bunch of spoon geeks together and everyone’s talking spoons or knives, this and that, it’s awesome. And then you go back to work and realize you’re babbling about something spoon related to a person who has no idea what you’re talking about, or maybe someone asks you a simple question like “what do you do with a wooden spoon?” and a half hour later you’re still yammering on about it… proselytizing, sure, and there’s a play on words of course, spreading the word, etc. But I do love sharing the virtues of craft, specifically, the craft of carving a spoon, with an uninitiated person, and sharing what sloyd does for me personally is something that I describe as spreading the wood.
We both have kids around the same age. What do you think children gain from watching their parents learn and practice a craft? Also, have your children started to carve? If so, do you any tips for teaching kids to carve?
My kids seem to enjoy being around when I’m carving, and they have both expressed an interest in learning to carve someday. My hope is that they learn to be self-reliant as they grow older and embrace their own creative processes, and that they value the importance of making things with their hands.
If you had to pick few songs to listen to while carving, what would they be?
Where can people find you online? And how can they buy your spoons?
I post things on Instagram – @cole_holliday_handcraft -, and then to facebook as well but Instagram is the best way to contact me. Everything is for sale.
Thanks Cole! 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.