Sunday, April 28, 2013

Today's Phenology Report- Ramps!

There is a nice article in the NYT this weekend on the virtues of Ramps a type of wild leek found in the spring woods well before the start of morel mushroom season.  After seeing the lovely photo of Ramps and eggs for breakfast I leapt from bed and searched the backyard under the Viburnum where I had transplanted some ramps maybe 10 years ago.  Here is what I saw:

These beauties are about 6 inches tall.  Below is the pair of two on the right.  Notice how deep the stalk goes to the bulb and roots.  You need a good sturdy long trowel to lift these out intact.

Ramps are a perennial.  These are youngsters who probably reseeded from my original planting a few years ago.  The bulb remains and gets thicker each year.  All except roots are edible and can be chopped and used like scallions or garlic.  If you don't want to lose the plant you can just pick one of the two leaves from a number of Ramps and they will live to share another day.

No photo of my fried eggs with ramps breakfast but it was delicious.  Thanks Peggy.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Last Lap

In a few days I will be back in my shop for my 22nd and final year of spoon retailing.  As in years past I will be open Thursday-Saturday from 10-6 and Sunday from 10-4.  Both my home and garden are just a few minutes from the spoon shop so call my cell at 507-467-3376 if you want to visit at a different time or day of the week.  Unless I've wandered too far away (like during morel mushroom season) I'm happy to do so.

Since this is my last year, I thought it would be interesting to feature a particular spoon or utensil when I do a new post.  Today's is titled "Ban Land Mines" and was made in 1998.

This spoon is made of buckthorn wood.  The prosthetic right leg is a brass boat nail.  Here is how it came to be and came to be named
It was a quiet day in Lanesboro.  Warm, sunny, a perfect day!  
I was polishing this spoon with some abrasive 3M pads spinning in a drill press as I had done many times before.  Thousands of times really.  It was pretty much finished, ready for signing and oiling.  Suddenly, inexplicably the right leg flew off across the shop bouncing off the wall and landing who knows where.  I never saw it again.  I looked at the jagged stump where once had been a perfectly formed and functional limb.  Gone.  Forever.  It was the metaphorical experience of stepping on a landmine.  Most times when limbs are lost to landmines they are those of civilians going about their normal duties.  Farmers farming, children playing when suddenly, gone, forever.  

I did for this spoon what most people do for each other around the world where land mines rule: gave it a prosthetic limb with readily available materials.  

I am mostly glad I have kept this spoon.  It does remind me of how fortunate it is to live where land mines do not rule.  (Where land mines do rule.)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Spoon Care, Humor and Philosophy.

Frank Wright, Spoonmaker, Rhubarb Farmer.
106 Coffee Street E.
Lanesboro, Minnesota 55949
cell: 507-467-3376

I was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1948 and my woodworking apprenticeship spanned the 1950’s.  My neighbor, Mr. Hamill, a foreman at the General Motors patternmaking shop, kept me supplied with beautiful odd-shaped blocks of rock maple. They flowed endlessly from the massive band saws of his artisans who built solid wood mockups of the cars of the future.  Like a little elf I searched my pile of blocks to find the mirror image forms.  I topped them with thin boards and well pounded nails to create my idiosyncratic line of footstools.  My aunt Ida used one of these in her kitchen for 50+ years.may still be using one
Finding the beauty and utility within the discarded served me well then as it does today.  These blocks were for me what the Froebel Blocks were to my colorful namesake, Frank Lloyd Wright, who reminisced fondly regarding their influence on his work.  I too had toy blocks to play with, my favorite being Lincoln Logs, invented by FLW’s son John Lloyd Wright.   After a few decades of production, he sold them to Playskool who continues to make them today.

Today though is about spoons, chopsticks and other utensils, my livelihood since 1992.  The spoons stood immediately.  I had been working on a series of tabletop sculptures whose verticality leapt into the first spoons I roughed out from firewood on the band saw.  Had I started making spoons 3 months earlier there is every reason to believe none would be standing today.  Just as biological genes move and recombine within organisms this design ‘meme’ of verticality moved from experimental sculpture to functional spoon.  The wonderful visual and word play made possible by standing spoons has become my signature.   If I were a bad headline writer (which I guess I am) I’d say “Signature Sesquipedalian Spoons Stood Serendipitously”.

My personal antennae for what I call ‘verticality in quotidian objects’ have become acute.  I enjoy tracking this in food presentation, in objects such as the Philippe Starck standing fly-swatter, the Koziol standing pasta server and new instances every year. It is hard to imagine a world without standing wood spoons.  I may be the sole practitioner of vertical spoons at the moment but I expect them to become commonplace as others adapt this technique to their personal style of spoon-making.

I gather the wood I use for my spoons and utensils from mostly local native and ornamental species.   Odd logs and blocks of wood arrive occasionally from afar thanks to friends and customers with a good eye for bits of comely wood in need of a second career.  I rarely use lumber since lovely wood from yard, orchard, roadside and surrounding forest is enough.  I have a modest supply of exotic woods for chopsticks and other small items, much of it deeply discounted ‘scrap’ from wood dealers acquired during my art fair travel days.  I don’t think I’ve purchased a piece of lumber in the last ten years.
All of my work from design to completion is free hand.  There is no mechanical duplication involved.  I have no ‘elves’ in my employ.  I use hand-held and bench mounted power tools extensively-- Band saws, die grinders, drill presses, all manner of personally designed sanding, finishing, and polishing equipment.  I love power tools and have since college summers working in steel mills and auto plants.  They stand between me and carpal tunnel syndrome.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank Jim Huppert and his ‘abrasive nerds’ at 3M here in Minnesota for their generous assistance to a struggling spoon-maker in 1992.  Their  expertise transformed  menial effort to meaningful work.  Without them I don’t know how I could have designed and made such attractive and useful utensils.   Even my frugal family and friends can afford to use and enjoy them.    

My work is finished with edible walnut oil and beeswax.  Those clever little green rings on my pairs of chopsticks are pure latex rubber bands you can get for a penny apiece at your friendly farm store.  They otherwise are used to neuter various animals as well as dock the tails of lambs.  They are the last remnant of my veterinary career prior to spoon-making. If you have these chopsticks you may notice under the ring there is a light blemish.  This occurs with some woods.  It is because the ring shields the wood from the darkening exposure of light and air.  Also the oil in the wood is attracted to rubber.  Despair not.  Use and random ring placement will eliminate this in time.  I’ve accepted this quirk of materials and hope you can do the same.
I encourage you to use these utensils.  Cook!  Serve!!  Eat!!!  Fondle them if you must!!!!  Spoons   increase in charm and warmth with the wear and patina of use.  Refer to the care card included with them.  Like many of us, some of these utensils are on their second and third career--tree to barn beam to spoon.  Service is what they know. Occasionally bad things happen to good spoons.  Should that happen to one of yours send it back to me and I will repair or replace it.  Like people, spoons occasionally go to pieces and are always worth the effort to make whole.  This is a lifetime warranty.  My lifetime, that is.

For many years I labored in the vineyards of retail art fairs and wholesale marketplaces. Now I am able to retail solely through my Coffee Street shop.  I am grateful to the many art fair patrons and gallery owners who have supported me in the past.  It is a blessing to travel less, garden more and have unhurried conversations with friends old and new.   My life is bursting with luxury.  I have health, family, friends, delightful work and a beautiful town and vibrant community to live in.  It is a wonderland of morel mushrooms, theatre, art, limestone bluffs, potluck suppers, trout streams, books, fabulous home cooking, forests, trails, farms, cattle, fine neighbors, and respectful visitors.
Did I mention Rhubarb?  Lots of rhubarb.   Please stop by my workshop should you find me there on your next visit to Lanesboro.  
Bon  Appetit!

Hours: Thurs – Sat.: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.  Sunday 10-4.  

Other days of the week by chance or appointment. Feel free to track me down via cell (507-467-3376) if I am not in my shop. 

My shop will close permanently on December 5, 2013 at 8:52PM, the moment I turn 65.  Rhubarb cultivation and promotion is slowly, inexorably, taking over my life.  Thank goodness my wife Peggy Hanson is one of the famous Rhubarb Sisters and bakes a fabulous rhubarb pie.