Whenever I needed a pick-me-up during my days working in Miami University’s Walter Havighurst Special Collections, I’d report directly to the “AY11” section of the shelves, browse Helen Coulter Ball’s collection of gift books, select a volume, sink to the floor and lose myself in the pages of a real Victorian treasure.
Gift books are elegant bound volumes that were published annually between the 1820s and the 1860s. Titles like The Token of Friendship, The Gift of Affection and Forget Me Not contained selections of fiction and poetry written by well-known authors like William Wordsworth, Sir Walter Scott, Washington Irving and Edgar Allan Poe, and were illustrated with beautiful steel engravings of women, children, animals and nature scenes. Intended to be an appropriate present for a man to give to the lady he was courting, a gift book included an ornate presentation plate upon which its giver could write a special message to its recipient.
Recently, I found another charming expression of affection — not on the shelves, but in a tucked-away place in the Short North of Columbus.
In Wales, there’s a precious tradition of showing love by the giving of lovespoons. In Columbus, local artist Laura Jenkins Gorun celebrates her Welsh heritage by designing and carving lovespoons. Several examples of her work are on display and available for purchase at the Studios on High Gallery, at 686 North High Street.
In the 17th century, a Welsh man would carve a wooden spoon to declare his love and commitment to a lady. Carved from a single piece of wood from sycamore, oak, walnut, beech, boxwood, yew, holly or even fruit trees, the spoon was decorated using an extensive vocabulary of designs to convey heartfelt sentiments the carver wanted to convey to the spoon’s recipient. The more elaborate the carving, the more feelings it conveyed. Flowers represent affection; diamonds, good fortune; a wheel, support; a lock, security; a dragon, protection; and a heart for love. Intertwined vines signaled togetherness; an anchor indicated that the giver wanted to settle down with the recipient.
A ball in a cage suggested that love would be kept safe. The number of balls, links in a chain or captive rings represents a significant number, such as years together, or the number of future children.
At first, the custom was intended to make a practical gift more special by decorating an essential tool that the recipient would use every day. It also proved a man’s ability to provide for a future wife and family. But as the tradition continued, the spoons became less practical and more ornamental. The spoon’s handle was broadened so that its surface could be adorned with a carved designs like initials, a word like cymru (Welsh for love), or filigrees.
Today, lovespoons are given for any special occasion, such as weddings, anniversaries, christenings, holidays and housewarmings. Modern spoons like Laura’s are also made from mahogany, pine, honey locust, basswood and Spanish cedar. You can even commission her to make an extra-special spoon for your beloved.
Laura also teaches woodworkers how to carve their own lovespoons and sand them for a smooth finish. After using a carving knife and a curved spoon gouge to reach deep into the bowl of the spoon, carvers boil either the blank or the finished spoon to rid it of sap, adding salt to the water or rubbing salt on later if they want to bleach the spoon. Finally, the carver rubs the spoon with linseed oil, if it’s intended for decoration, or with vegetable oil if the spoon is to be used.
Laura will teach one-day basic spoon-carving classes at WoodCraft of Columbus, at the corner of Bethel and Kenny Roads, on Friday, July 22; Friday, August 12 and Saturday, August 20. For more information about Laura’s classes and work, see http://www.jenkinslovespoons.com
This month, Laura teamed with Mikelle Hickman-Romine, a local artist specializing in fine beadwork and floristry, to create Crafting Enchantment, an exhibit at Studios on High Gallery which continues through May 31.
Together, the pair created wearable symbols of relationships that are designed to bring blessings to the wearer. Beautiful gifts include brooches made from magnolia wood, applewood, gold and sterling silver leaf, citrine, bronze, amethyst and iolite; a pendant made from ebony and bloodwood, gold leaf and garnets; and a crown made from cherry twigs, gold leaf, glass and bronze. Earrings are made of applewood, gold and sterling leaf; dyed maple burl, rock crystal and silk; and buckeye, ebony, tiger’s eye and pearls with beadwork.
For more on Welsh lovespoons, see History of Lovespoons: The Art and Traditions of a Romantic Craft, by David Western; Carving Spoons, by Shirley Adler; and “Lovespoons in Perspective,” Herbert E. Roese’s article in the 1988 Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies. The oldest example of a Welsh lovespoon (dating from 1667) is on display at the St. Fagans National History Museum in Wales. Click here to see some lovespoons from its collection. Watch Bryn Terfel, the Welsh baritone opera and concert singer, talk about them in “Mother’s Love,” from the May 12, 2013 broadcast of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s Music & the Spoken Word.