Sep 23, 2008

"The Fine Art of Carving Lovespoons" An Interview with David Western.

AmeriCymru: What is a lovespoon and what is it for? Are there comparable or similar customs in other cultures?

David: "A lovespoon is a heavily ornamented, non-functional gift of love or strong emotion. How's that for dry? Originally, it was a handmade spoon given by its maker to the girl who had captivated his heart in the hopes its acceptance would lead to the beginnings of a courtship. The custom was known throughout Wales and was known to exist in Sweden, the Alpine regions and even down to Hungary; it is even reputed to have occured in areas of Spain, France, Italy and Greece. It is in Wales however,that the lovespoon has survived the industrial revolution and it is the only country where it has survived in a notable fashion."

AmeriCymru: How did you become involved in carving spoons?

David: "My usual line is that I am too small for rugby and I lack the voice for choral singing, but I am a dab hand with a knife so lovespoon carving was a good way to stay Welsh! It is, of course, much more complicated and longwinded than that, but hiraeth and a desire to hold onto an element of Welshness was certainly at the root of it."

AmeriCymru: Who do you carve them for and what do your customers want from a lovespoon?

David: "The vast majority of my lovespoons are carved to commission order for clients who wish to create an heirloom gift expressing something 'of them' in a meaningful and emotional way. Both I and my customers want a lovespoon which says 'who they are' and what is good about them and their lives. That is a pretty tall order for a little piece of wood, but a lovespoon can deliver that result in a way few other things can."

AmeriCymru: Can you tell us something about the design elements of a lovespoon? Are there classic patterns that have particular meanings?

David: "Lovespoons are reknowned for their symbolism and abilities to 'tell stories'. How much of this truly goes back to the old days is still open for debate, but modern lovespoons have developed a large number of well known symbols which can be used to send messages of emotion. New symbols are constantly being added to the repertoire as lovespoon carving is a tradition in constant flux. Some symbols are famous and well known; hearts for love, diamonds for prosperity, horseshoes for good luck, others are more controversial; the comma shaped 'soul symbol', chain link or balls in cages for number of children or security. Symbols are even used on spoons which may only have relevance for the person receiving the spoon."

AmeriCymru: Do you include both those classic elements and your own creations in your spoons?

David: "Although many of my designs can stray a good distance from 'classic design', I do keep a foot fairly firmly in tradition. My spoons are all carved from a single piece of wood as is the traditonal method and all strive to capture as much emotion as I can. In this sense they are very traditional."

AmeriCymru: Do you have a particular favorite design or element that you like or like to carve?

David: "I don't really have favourites, I really do just enjoy carving! I will occasionally go through phases where I am particularly happy carving leaves or hearts or doing Celtic knotwork, but for the most part I like it all equally."

AmeriCymru: How do you arrive at the design for a spoon for a client?

David: "Whenever possible, I work with my clients to capture as many of their ideas and emotions as I can in the design. We discuss things which are important to them in their lives and look for ways to symbolize them in the spoon. It is important that they and their lives be represented as much as possible and it is this which gives the spoon a deeper meaning for them."

AmeriCymru: You've created spoons for individual clients but you also have spoons on display in collections. Where can people see your work?

David: "Except for the occasional piece I do for myself and a piece collected by the National History Museum of Wales at St Fagans near Cardiff, all of my work goes to private collection. My pieces are very personal and emotional pieces which are carved for their owners expressly. I do, however, keep a large selection of photographs on my website at and there is a large gallery of my work in "The Fine Art of Carving Lovespoons" as well."

AmeriCymru: Is there any one piece you are most proud of?

David: "My favorite piece is actually a collection of four spoons very simply carved from a spectacular piece of spalted maple. I did very little carving on the wood except add the occassional heart and a bowl to each piece. The simplicity of the shapes and the stunning beauty of the wood do and say everything. The might not be to everyone's taste, but that is the nice thing about lovespoons...there's something for everyone!!"

AmeriCymru: You have recently written a book. How does it feel to be a published author?

David: "It is a tremendous feeling to get a book into print and to know that the lovespoon tradition has the potential to reach thousands of people throughout North America and the UK. Fox Chapel Publishing have been extremely supportive on this project and have done a brilliant job of turning my scribbles and pictures into a beautiful book. I'm very proud of myself of course, but I feel as much or more pride for the lovespoons and the tradition which is being brought to the bookbuying world! The book, entitled "The Fine Art of Carving Lovespoons" is available from Fox Chapel Publishing, Amazon, Borders or from your local book dealer."

AmeriCymru: Is the book aimed at absolute beginners? Could a novice acquire the skills to produce a lovespoon by reading your book?

David: "While the primary thrust of the book is to assist the complete beginner to understand the process of carving a lovespoon, intermediate and even advanced carvers and woodworkers will also find plenty to interest, inspire and challenge them. The book is the most complete collection of valuable information on the history and methods of lovespoon carving currently available and I hope it will inspire lots of carvers both novice and more experienced to take up this wonderful tradition."

AmeriCymru: Should there be more lovespoons in the world? What could be done to make the custom of giving and receiving lovespoons more widely known and practiced?

David: "Lovespoons, by their nature, are messages of love and deep caring. In our rush-rush world of plastic sentiment, there is always room for these genuine expressions of emotion. Before the industrial revolution, a lovespoon was THE way to show love and affection, so the question is, are we any better off without them? I think the answer is a resounding no ! I think the Welsh have done the lovespoon a great service by embracing it as an icon and I think that will help to secure its survival for the next while, however, the cheapening and mass producing of the lovespoon (while flooding the market with inexpensive product) threatens to sterilize and distort the lovespoon. It is when the spoons are created by hand and for an emotional purpose they have their greatest power and it is this legacy which needs to be encouraged."

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