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Ornate Welsh lovespoons made in Canada take the world by storm

06 Apr 2024 8 minute read
Welsh lovespoons by David Western

Stephen Price

Welsh lovespoons are one of Wales’ most celebrated crafts, but photos of ornately beautiful pieces which have taken social media by storm recently were surprisingly made across the Atlantic ocean in Canada.

David Western was born in Cardiff, but emigrated to Canada with his family as a child, and the hiraeth in his family is strong – seeing him return to Wales about every second year or so.

Along with his family, Dave has spent a great deal of time at St Fagans, both as a goggle-eyed visitor and as a lovespoon researcher.

He holds a university degree in education but traded in a career teaching for one as a cabinetmaker.

Talking to Nation.Cymru about how he got started, he said: “I gained City & Guilds certification in Cabinetmaking and in Furniture Design from the London College of Furniture and then spent close to 20 years in the cabinet making trade.

“During that time, I began taking my passion for lovespoon carving a bit more seriously and with the coming of the internet, was able to build my own website and start taking my first steps toward becoming a professional lovespoon carver.”

Chance encounter

Although Dave had been aware of Welsh lovespoons since a chance encounter with them at the Cardiff Market with his Grandfather in 1974, he treated carving as a fun little hobby up until the mid 1990s when he became aware of Mike Davies and his amazing work.

After meeting him a couple of times at his shop in Cardiff and becoming aware of the vast design possibilities Mike had begun exploring, Dave decided he would pursue the craft much more seriously.

Dave said: “I spent a good deal of time in the archives at St Fagans studying their unparalleled collection of antique lovespoons and started taking some night school art classes to improve my drawing skills and to build on my knowledge of art and art styles.”

David Western with some of his designs

“A point of pride”

In the early days, Dave took inspiration from a few of the spoons from the St Fagans collection as a learning exercise to become more familiar with how the spoons were made, but the joy of creating these special one-offs for him is their uniqueness, and repeating the same designs isn’t something he does often.

He told us: “From the beginning, I had already started mashing up my own designs from various design fragments and ideas that I had been collecting in my sketchbook.

“Although my first spoons were pretty basic, I started to get the hang of designing and it soon became a point of pride that I would only use my own designs for my spoon carving.

Even when I design a deliberately ‘old school’ traditional spoon, I use my own ideas which I base on the design techniques I have learned from my time rummaging through the boxes of spoons at St Fagans. 

“Nowadays, the vast majority of my spoons are carved to custom order and each spoon I design is completely original, unique and developed either solely by me or in very close partnership with my client. 

“I do have one or two designs that I have made multiple versions of, but I confess that carving the same thing over and over is not something I ever want to get into.  

Composition, balance and line

Dave’s father was also a very skilled visual artist and worked as aa high school art teacher at the school Dave attended.

Naturally, he stayed as far away from his classroom as he could get, but he believes that a love of his inspiration and love of creating comes from unconsciously absorbing much of his father’s love of art.

He said: “I really believe his eye for composition, balance and line have informed how I view lovespoon design to this day.”

Welsh lovespoons by David Western

Sharing information on the time consuming process, he said: “Because my work is all bespoke and generally fairly complex, my spoons are more time consuming (and thus, more expensive) than the typical souvenir shop lovespoon that most folks are more familiar with. 

“My spoons all feature deeply curved stems and often domed and curved handles (as was the tradition before machine made spoons became the fashion) elegant thin bowls and complicated handle details.

“A simple spoon can be made in a day, but some of my more artistic pieces can take several weeks.”

Flying the flag

Living in Canada, when Dave first began carving lovespoons, he didn’t hold out much hope that he would enjoy much success, instead focusing on the creation of lovespoons for the sheer joy and for the connection to the land of his fathers.

He told us: “Being a Welsh boy, carving lovespoons on an Island off the West Coast of Canada really didn’t seem like the smartest career move I could have made, but thanks to the internet, an entire world of opportunity opened up that would have been unthinkable back when lovespoons first crossed my path. 

“An enthusiastic expat and descendent community across North America have been very supportive of my work and helped me to get started and to flourish. 

“What has been even more remarkable is how people with NO Welsh ancestry have embraced the romantic ideals of the lovespoon and have been amazingly supportive. 

“I’ve been able to appear on television, on the radio and in print media promoting my work and this beautiful Welsh lovespoon tradition, and that has filled me with an enormous pride!

“Many people in North America know very little about Wales, so to see one of our iconic traditions being embraced here is very fulfilling.”

Welsh lovespoons by David Western

Storytelling

Along with other traditional or ‘folk’ art forms, lovespoons once fell victim to a degree of snobbery in the art world, but a growing number of artists such as Dave have defiantly stood their ground and witnessed a renaissance in Welsh culture and art.

Many lovespoons, such as Dave’s, have found an every growing audience of collectors, and antique pieces too can command extremely high sums.

He told Nation.Cymru: “When I first began lovespoon carving and started to develop my own artistic style, I hoped that I could get the local art and collecting worlds interested in what I do; but for the art world, I was a bit too ‘craft’ and for the craft world, I was far too ‘arty’. 

“That irritated me for many years until I realized that the strength and power of the lovespoon doesn’t lie in its artiness or its technical wizardry… it lies in its ability to convey a message. 

“Yes, they can be collected and hung on the wall, but they will inevitably lack the ‘presence’ and meaningfulness of a spoon that has been purposefully made to tell a story, convey a message and elicit passion.

“Once I had figured that out, my outlook and my entire lovespoon strategy changed from being a producer of ornate and technical woodcarving to a storyteller in wood.

“This is why my spoons work so well for my clients… each spoon tells their story and expresses actual love and passion.  I love making them, my clients love receiving them!”

Welsh lovespoons by David Western

Pride

Dave’s passion about lovespoon carving and deep pride of his Welsh heritage is clear to see, detailed and highly dedicated work.

He told us: “Being able to do what I do is a great honour and one that I take extremely seriously. I’ve dedicated over twenty years to making spoons that aren’t just good; they’re really good.

I have no interest in mass producing my work or my lovespoons being a ‘business’. 

“I create Welsh lovespoons because I love making them…that I can earn a modest living from doing this is absolute icing on the cake.

“I know that life is short and I only have a limited opportunity to make a contribution that I hope builds on our rich tradition of Welsh lovespoon carving.

“As a result, I treat every design like it might be my last one.

“Maybe one day, after I’m long gone, one of my spoons will turn up in a museum and a young carver seeing it will say, “That’s what I want to do!”

You can find out more about David Western’s celebrated lovespoons at his website.


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Riki
Riki
1 month ago

North Americans know little about Wales because of two reasons 1. English dominance of everything that leaves this island (Be they English in Origin or otherwise) and 2. American education standards that are heavily influenced by The English. Same problem occurs in Korea and Japan in regards to Wales. Independence would sort this out pretty quickly!

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
1 month ago

Most of them don’t look like lovespoons to me, just intricate wood carvings.

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