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Andelson and Bair deliver the scoop on spoon carving

About two years ago, anthropology professor Jonathan Andelson ’70 and Environmental and Safety Manager Chris Bair started a spoon carving group for people to come and learn new skills. It started as an ‘add on’ to anthropology professor John Whittaker’s flint-knapping group, which was already taking place on campus. After it took off, Andelson and Bair decided to make spoon carving a weekly group open to the entire community.

In the beginning, they didn’t expect many people to show up.

“I think we saw ourselves doing more spoon carving,” Bair said. “It’s gotten popular enough that we have to wander around [assisting people].” There can be up to 25 people in a session, many of whom are loyal participants that go each week.

Hannah Taylor ’21 started spoon carving when she was working in the woodshop for a sculpture class. Someone told her about the spoon carving group and suggested she go for a session. She enjoys the quiet of carving, though larger and louder power tools are still close to her heart. There is something special about the community surrounding woodcarving that feels more personal, says Taylor.

“You kind of get to know the piece of wood when you’re carving.” She now frequently uses one of the first spoons she made to eat peanut butter.

“I like that it’s time to relax … your brain has been focusing all week looking at a computer screen and it kind of drains you,” Taylor said. “[Carving] moves from thinking with your brain to working with your hands.”

Taylor said one of the appeals of spoon carving is being able to know where the materials came from and who has influenced the spoon.

“I know Chris got the wood somewhere, brought it, he chopped it up and then I carved it.”

Chris Bair started spoon carving when his friend was cutting down a bush and had nothing to do with the wood. After that, he started thinking about trees differently.

One day after a bad storm, small sticks lay around on the ground and trees had been broken. His response? “There are a hundred thousand potential spoons out there this morning.”

Jonathan Andelson started carving after being introduced to the art form by Bair. As he continued, he learned to view the project with a social justice aspect. “In my mind, this hobby is an expression of my critique of industrial capitalism.”

Bair added that carving is a way of bringing back craftsmanship and interacting with the environment in different ways.

People who join the group do not have to worry about being advanced enough to make a spoon.

“We don’t start with a spoon,” Bair said. “We start with a piece of wood and turn that into a toothpick.”

The goal is to get used to working with the tools and feeling the wood in hand. Spoons are a great starting point because they use only two tools.

All carving materials are supplied for participants to use. The group meets each Friday from 3-5 p.m. in the Grinnell College Garden, weather permitting. When weather conditions don’t allow, they meet in the old church just north of the garden.

Some of the spoons carved by anthropology professor Jonathan Andelson ’70. Photo contributed by Jonathan Andelson.
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    Tim ThompsoOct 6, 2019 at 6:43 am

    I would love to visit this. I wouldn’t be able to come every Friday but I would love to get started in spoon carving.