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Carving Through Winter

In his latest blog post, North House Resident Artisan Nathan White discusses some new carving work he has explored this winter. 

Posted on February 23, 2022
by Nathan White

And just like that, winter is essentially over.  December, January, and, at the time of writing, half of February, is gone.  They were productive months in the studio and out; I’ve been snowshoeing, carving spatulas, bowls, and submitted a square for North House’s second edition of the Wall of Craft.  In March I’ll heading out to the Maine to spend some time with teacher and mentor of mine, Kenneth Kortemeier.  Kenneth was an instructor at the Carpenter’s Boat Shop when I apprenticed there, and has been a crucial teacher of craft to me beyond my apprenticeship.  It’s a period I’ve been thinking about lately because my first real foray into woodworking was at the Boat Shop, and almost exactly ten years later, I started my residency with North House in the Artisan Development Program.  Apprenticing there laid my foundation for wood working, and eventually led me into furniture making, timber framing, green wood working, and the concept of sloyd and craft schools, including North House.

Our rough plan while I’m out there is to work on hand carving bowls from green wood.  In January I was able to assist Jon Strom in his class at North House carving green wood bowls, and since then I’ve been working on my own in the studio.  It is definitely more labor intensive than making a bowl on the lathe, but I’m very drawn to the sculptural aspects of the oblong shapes and the slowed down, back and forth nature of carving by hand. 

While I’m familiar enough with carving, I’m relatively new hand carving wooden bowls, and I’m excited to work with Kenneth to see all the little things that make up his technique; How a tool is held, his posture and stances while doing certain steps, what he uses to hold the piece while he works on it, and all the different tools he uses and how to sharpen them.  There is so much that goes into making something beyond just having tools and materials, and I feel like the best instructors are able to articulate those tacit things like muscle memory, and rote practices that play a huge role in how they do what they do and how they create.  

Practice is very important to any craft, and without instruction and guidance, one can only go so far, especially when you’re just starting out.  Most of my education around craft has been through more traditional means; either apprenticeships, or working one on one for/with a master craftsperson.  I truly cherish the time I’ve been able to spend with all the different people I’ve worked and learned from, and most of the time as I’m working on new projects, their voices and lessons are still in my head.  I’m grateful the Artisan Development Program puts so much emphasis on deepening existing mentorship relationships like that, and how it also helps us reach out to find new mentors as well.