Sylva Spoon

Objects with Soul

Thomas Bartlett1 Comment

The Meaning We Give to the Items We Own

I love making utensils for people to use. Through regular use, we start to give physical objects an emotional meaning. A spoon is gradually no longer just a spoon, it's your favourite spoon for eating the chicken soup your partner makes you when you're feeling a little poorly. It becomes a symbol that says 'things kinda suck, but they're starting to look up'. Opening the kitchen draw and seeing it becomes a reminder of community, love and healing. 

The items we hold dear are reservoirs of memory. They are present at key moments in our life. Like us, they're changed by the experience. Wood is especially good at this. It's durable enough to be long lasting, serving it's purpose for more than one generation. But malleable enough that the passage of time is clearly written on it's surface. Edges become worn, scratches appear and colours mellow. In other objects, this kind of wear is seen as damage, devaluing the product. For objects with soul, it becomes a part of the story. 

Worn, used and loved kitchen utensils

Worn, used and loved kitchen utensils

Giving an object soul is a slow, unconscious, process. In my own life I find that the more simple an object is, the more likely I am to see it as soulful. It starts as a blank canvas, single-mindedly performing the function it was designed for. I might only have a handful of objects I think of as soulful: a few of the wooden spoons in my collection, a couple of my older items of clothing, my woodworking tools. They're items that 'feel right' when I'm using them. Items that easily evoke pleasant memories. Things that have a history I can retell.   

Nearly all the woodworking tools I use are steeped with meaning. I know the person that made the knife blade I use most regularly. I made the handle from a cherry burr given to me by a friend. The wood is dark from use and the blade is starting to change from repeated sharpenings. Another example is a tool that got me thinking about the way we shape objects is tied to how they shape us.     

An old tool absorbing new memories

An old tool absorbing new memories

This drawknife is a recent addition to my life. It was it's newness that brought the relationship we have to the objects we own to the forefront of my mind. I've had it for perhaps two or three months. It was given to me by a gentleman that got chatting with me at the Madison Farmers' Market. He saw I was using a drawknife and realised he had one at home he had no use for. A couple of weeks later I gave him a spoon in exchange for the drawknife (and a couple bits of wood). A little Googling suggests that it was made by the John Pritzlaff Hardware Company, a Milwaukee based company that operated from 1850 to 1958. That suggests this a locally made tool, at least 60 years old. 

I spent several hours putting on a new edge and it soon become a regular user. Last night tipped the balance into making this tool a reservoir of memory. My friend brought over a recently acquired sharpening device (a Tormek T-7 for fellow sharpening nerds). This tool uses a stone wheel, which creates whats known as a hollow grind. With the equipment I own, I can only produce a flat grind. As neither of us were super familiar with using this kind of sharpening tool, the new grind on my drawknife not only serves a practical purpose, but now holds the memory of messing about in the workshop with friends.

This tool has survived the last sixty years in great condition and just a few months with me it's probably already carved over a hundred spoons. I don't knows how long it will continue in my service, but I know that every time I pick it up I'll be reminded of community, the kindness of strangers and the joy of learning new skills.