KODIAK — The brightly painted wooden spoons of Russia are a folk art going back more than 1,000 years.
In the dark of winter, when rural Russian villages were cut off from the rest of the world by deep snow, one way to productively pass the time was to carve wooden spoons and ladles, which would be taken to the market by the basketful in spring.
The tradition of winter spoon carving will continue in Kodiak this new year. A six-week class by local artist and woodcarver Jim Dillard on creating Russian-style wooden spoons begins this month through a partnership with Kodiak’s Baranov Museum.
The limited spots available to take the class have already been filled, but Dillard said he will likely offer more classes.
“The thing about this class,” Dillard said, “is that it is based on tradition. It’s all authentic, even the wood is the same as used in Russia.”
The students will use a white birch from the Alaska Mainland to carve their spoons. Kodiak Island has a few varieties of wood that are good for carving, Dillard said, including alder and black birch that can be found in Bell’s Flats and Larsen Bay.
And while there are plenty of modern tools that would speed the process of creating a wooden spoon, Dillard will teach the traditional way that woodcrafts like bowls, cups, forks and plates — in addition to spoons — were crafted long before mechanized production.
“The key to making them successfully is using traditional methods,” Dillard said. “That’s what we will be doing — using the same tools that have been used close to a thousand years.”
The tool kit is simple and can fit into a pocket: a straight knife for carving and a crooked (or bent) knife to scrape out the hollow of the spoon.
It’s an inexpensive hobby, Dillard said. It is also tied to another interest he has cultivated, that of going into the outdoors and using the materials you find there to provide for your needs.
The lifestyle of having skills to be self-sufficient in nature has been a growing trend in the country, he said.
Dillard has taught carving and other traditional skills in camps around Kodiak for many years.
He said his carving has netted so many wood ladles over the years that he doesn’t have more room for them at home anymore and gives them away when he teaches the skills at a camp.
Retired from the school district, he said his impetus for teaching this class was in getting back to the things he enjoys doing in his retirement.
Dillard is also looking into other opportunities in the coming months to teach self-sufficiency and outdoor survival.