When Harry Charles Clarke of Lena, Illinois looked at a Cedar tree
last summer and saw a spoon wedged between a branch, he
considered it an omen. "It was an omen," he says,
"because I will be building a shop on the property that will
be used to carve spoons."
Harry's profession entails
carving wood into spoons and other kitchen utensils. He discovered the spoon when hanging a bird
feeder on one of the trees on the property.
Harry says he noticed the spoon
after running his hand over it as he leaned against the tree.
"It felt just like a shape I had felt in my hand a thousand
times," Harry said. "It seemed so familiar that I knew
what it was before even looking at it."
Harry first became interested in
wood carving as a profession after seeing some work another
man had done. "I saw what this fellow had done with the
wood in making spoons," Harry says, "and I thought it would be
make them. I wondered to myself if I could make them as
Now Harry runs his own
carving business, Kitchen Carvers. Harry makes all sorts
of spoons, bowls and decorative pieces from wood.
He learned to carve simply by
trial-and-error. "I've tried any way I thought might
work," Harry says. "I've never had a teacher."
Harry says he never cuts down good
trees just for their wood. "I try only to find trees
that people are going to be cutting down anyway," Harry says.
"I want something special, wood that you can't just go to a
mill and get."
Last October, when the historical society
moved the original Lena post office from its location, they
had a Cedar tree removed at the same time. Harry noticed
the society was discarding the tree, so he retrieved it from
the side of the road and turned it into seven bowls.
Most bowls take up to nine months
to completely dry after being carved. If wood is not
dry, Harry says, it does not form as easily and is more
susceptible to cracking.
But with the
bowls he formed from the old Post Office cedar, Harry
specially dried them on heat registers. "You can dry
them on a heat register as long as the wood isn't too wet." he
says. The cedar bowls dried in less than a month.
Harry says he's taken in trees
while on trips across the state line, including in Iowa and
Wisconsin. Other times, people give him wood.
After carving out a tree that
someone has given him, Harry always presents them with a piece
of handiwork from the old tree.
When he used wood from a few
fallen trees from outside Lena Citizens Bank, Harry brought
back some of his work to the bank and left them with a few
pieces. One of his
figurines, called a modern angel, is
displayed on the
teller station. "I thought the pieces
were unique because of their different wood grains and
colors," says Carol Mau, who works at the bank. "I
thought they would make good gifts." Mau bought some
items for her kitchen, including several spoons and a spatula.
Most people who buy the bowls use
them for decorative purposes, Harry says. Others use
some of the smaller bowls as salt holders or to hold keys.
"All wood is decorative," Harry
says. "The first thing people notice about my work is
the smoothness of the wood. They pick it up and they're
surprised. The second thing they comment on is how light
He even make spoons specific for
left-handers. Another specialty spoon is the
sweetheart spoon, named for its heart-shaped look. "Those
are the hardest spoons to make," Harry says,
because the hearts are so hard to shape. I've broken a
lot of hearts."
Harry makes some spoons from three
different woods pieced together. He calls these spoons "Colorware™."
To make those, Harry uses industrial-grade waterproof glue and
clamps the pieces together to squeeze all excessive glue out
from between the pieces of wood. The finished product, a
multi-colored spoon, is just as smooth as any of the other
bowls and spoons he carves.
"I like to surprise people," Harry
says. "One day a friend had just given me a piece of
firewood and I turned it into a spoon. He was shocked
that the scraggly piece of wood could be turned into something
nice. Sometimes I get surprised, too."
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