Making Wooden Spoons Around the Campfire

Project Spotlight: Artist and scholar Antti Stöckell meditates on dialogue, handcraft-based art and sustainability. 

Land Creating Technology
A group of five people wearing outdoor clothing sit and stand around a campfire in a forest. There is a shelter structure in the middleground and a fluffy dog is leashed to it.

Walking and handicraft are slow processes. Both are characterized by repetition and continuation, until the goal is reached. The path cannot be entirely completed at once, and the shape of the spoon does not appear from the wooden base after a couple of axe strikes and knife carvings. The path and the wood create a reasonable opposition to the walker and carver. The reasonability of the opposition comes when individual movements do not require full effort anymore and the mind becomes free to wander to other matters—and back again. This liberty opens up space for many kinds of conversations. Dialogue between people, material and location are important, but so is the ability to give others time and listen to them. Thoughts build up during breaks, and the material and location may speak during silence. This is what I included in the dialogical aesthetics of the Wooden Spoons project.

A group of five people wearing outdoor clothing sit and stand around a campfire in a forest. There is a shelter structure in the middleground and a fluffy dog is leashed to it.

So, grab your backpacks and let’s go! The bumpy road, stones and roots can be felt under the feet. The body begins to live in a new way, feeling the natural environment with the sensitized senses. Soon the echoing axe strikes speak about the preparing of firewood, and soon the first flame is born and spreads through the tinder. People enjoy casual conversations around the fireplace and plan the upcoming project.

A thumb-sized piece of glowing red charcoal is picked up from the embers with barbecue tongs.It is held on top of the base for the wooden spoon and people begin to blow at it until the heat begins to burn a bowl for the spoon. Everybody is blowing at their own piece of charcoal. Soon the holes are deep enough for the next step.

It is time to pick up food from the backpacks and relax after all the blowing. The journey back into the world of streets, cars and buildings waits ahead. As a homecoming gift there is either a finished wooden spoon or a still-incomplete basis and the good feeling brought by the walking, encounters and the forest.

A close-up photograph shows a person blowing on an ember to create a bowl in the base of a wooden spoon.
A person in an orange jacket by a campfire uses a hatchet to shape a piece of wood.

Handicraft – Skills, experiences and cultural heritage

Generations for whom creating wooden utensils was necessary and familiar still live among us. While moving in the woods, suitably curved pieces of wood—such as sleigh skids, scythe handles, and boat keels—were marked and later picked up at the right time of the year, so that the piece behaved the right way while drying, being shaped and being used. Knowledge about materials was related to local information about different forest habitats and lore about the correct time to cut trees for different needs. Wooden utensils were created in the courtyard and in the winter even inside the dwelling house. The younger generation learnt knowledge and skills by participating in these projects throughout the year. Nowadays handicraft is not a necessary living condition like it used to be.

In my project, the spoon opens up an interesting viewpoint for handicraft. The spoon must feel good in both mouth and hand. The mouthpiece of the spoon does not really offer any possibilities for expression other than its use purpose, while the handle of the spoon can act as a platform for delivering messages.

The primary purpose of wooden utensils was to work the best possible way in use. For example, the shaft of an axe had to be curved like the stomach of a pike and the handle had to be curved like a fish tail, so that you could get a good grip. There are many similar lifeworld-related illustrative descriptions, and they reflect everyday aesthetics, where practicality and functionality are primary. This kind of practicality with metaphors was strongly connected to time- and place-related needs.

A grid of photographs with a large image of a charred bowl shape at upper left show participants burning a bowl into their handmade wooden spoons.

After the trips, I ask participants about their previous handicraft experiences, and what creating handicraft feels like, what kind of feelings and experiences they get from the work, tools and materials, what it is like to use or look at self-made objects and what significances they associate with self-made objects. I do not ask any questions about the creation of wooden spoons, because my aim is to get answers about the experiences of handicraft and the significance of their previous experiences. At that time, my aim is to pick citations from the answers for my spoon art installation in an art exhibition. Responses include:

“It is such a present and multi-sensual action.” 

“I created things by myself! And the happiness is so sincere.’ 

“During the process, I dream about the finished product, which I later get to use.” 

“In addition to the use, self-made things also include the feelings and memories about the creation process.” 


An important motive for handicraft for the respondents was the satisfaction related to physicality and multi-sensuality. People report feeling intensive presence and joy due to the improvement of skills as the project goes forward. Skills are related to knowledge about materials and the use of tools. Handicraft is done with flexible plans, trying and looking for new ways, and reacting to surprises on the conditions of material. The joy of handicraft seems to consist of adequate familiarity with and control of actions, but also of challenging yourself and embracing the unpredictability of the finished product. Most of the respondents had previous experience with creating utensils with the usage purpose already in mind during the project. Finishing the projects felt rewarding, and self-made products made people proud. When using self-made products, it is easy to remember things, events and places from the time of the creation.

Handicraft enthusiasts feel that the most important factors in handicraft are the experience and the enjoyment of the project and the results. While creating handicraft together, it is natural to discuss knowledge and skills related to doing things yourself. These discussions can also wander into other subjects. Functionality and dialogue are still a centre of my attention when I examine handicraft in the context of contemporary art.

A photograph of a gallery installation shows a cluster of wooden spoons suspended out from the wall at left, with video documentation of the creation of the spoons projected on the wall at right.
Wooden Spoon project exhibition in Reykjavik. PHOTO: ANTTI STÖCKELL, 2017.
A photograph shows wooden spoons suspended among tree trunks installed in an art gallery. A small video player with a white border is installed on one of the tree trunks at centre.
Wooden Spoon project exhibition in Finland. PHOTO: ANTTI STÖCKELL.
A photograph shows an extreme close up of two carved wooden spoons with unusual sculptural shapes resting on a sketch, and a third sculptural spoon at the edge of the table visible in background.
Three site-specific spoons and a draft of the gallery installation on a sketchbook page. PHOTO: ANTTI STÖCKELL, 2016.

From the Campfire to a Gallery Installation

For the exhibition, I built a small forest in the gallery with tree trunks from the floor to the ceiling, from which the spoons were suspended. The strongly spatial installation brought a breeze from the forest and the moments we spent there into the gallery. People could walk within the trees like in a forest and see the spoons in every direction—looking for their own, if they participated in the project. At the tree roots there were sentences written by the participants about the significance of handicraft. A video attached to the trees showed the different stages of creating a spoon, other chores from the trips, and atmospheres with sounds. In the Iceland exhibition, the spoons created a formation against the light coloured wall with shadows and a large-scale video was projected on the next wall.

The purpose of these installations naturally was to disclose experiences of events from the trips. Before the trips, I had already emphasized my thankfulness for all kinds of spoons, even unfinished ones and unprocessed pieces of wood. The exhibited spoons expressed different stages of the process and different abilities and styles. Different species of trees were also shown. Participants were allowed to polish the spoon bowls or leave them charcoal black. Almost all spoons were shown with a black and charred bowl, which highlighted the method that we used and the stages that we had experienced together on the trips.

Credit: This text is a shortened version of the article originally published in Relate North: Art and Design for Education and Sustainability. COURTESY ANTTI STÖCKELL. 

This story is part of the Finland Spotlight. View more content from the Spotlight here.