Mark Reddy on the ultimate object of good – the spoon
Words Vilma Paasivaara
Photographs Dan Weill
For London Craft Week, woodcarver Mark Reddy set up his workspace at the Hole & Corner x dunhill’s Home of Craftsmanship in Mayfair. In case you didn’t get to participate in one of his exclusive spoon carving workshops or see him at work, we caught up with Reddy to talk through why this simple object so captivates him…
Mark Reddy has always been a relentless maker, working across many disciplines: as an illustrator, a prop maker, an art director, a creative director, a designer and an artist in metal – beating, welding and melting bronze and silver to make narrative tableaux. He was even commissioned to make a symbol for Britain’s Millennium celebrations. However, for Reddy, the experience turned out to be ‘an example of how not to handle a creative project.’ Weighed down by the opinions of several committees, he felt there was little place for creativity and even less time for the actual making. In fact, the project ended up having a huge impact on his career as a maker.
After the depleating process of trying to create under such constraints, Reddy completely quit making for a while. Though he has kept all his metalworking tools, it is only recently that he has tried working with the material again – and he is not sure if he will ever completely return to it. But in the meanwhile, he began carving spoons. ‘I wanted something good and wholesome to come out of it and I bought a piece of woodland,’ he explains. ‘Everyone thought that I was bonkers at the time. It was quite mad to buy a piece of woodland, but I bought 17 acres in Kent and used it as a place to just sort of go and sit,’ he adds with a laugh.
Building a shelter and spending time in the woods, alone and with friends and family, Reddy started carving things out of the surrounding material. From bows and arrows to everyday objects, he slowly developed a passion for carving. ‘Along the way, I sort of found the spoon,’ he tells.
Today, it would be hard to imagine the man separated from the object – and Reddy has developed a close relationship with the spoon, which he calls ‘the ultimate object of good.’ He sees a lot of symbolism in the simple, familiar implement that has occupied a place in our everyday lives throughout our history and cultures. ‘You could say that it is a vessel that provides comfort and sort of timeless domestic object; a giver of life.’
For The Home of Craftsmanship, Reddy brought his enormous skills to Bourdon House in London, holding two spoon-carving workshops as well as demonstrating his craft to visitors throughout the event. Though he spends most of his time focusing on making, Reddy is also a firm believer in sharing his knowledge. He has noticed how people are increasingly looking to learn tangible skills again and is able to relate to that desire. ‘Carving each spoon is a meditative act,’ he says. ‘That thing that happens when you are making, you lose yourself – I suppose that is something that you strive for, that joy that comes from the loss of self in the process. The journey of making is as important as the finished thing itself.’
Reddy finds the act of making can be very reparative – almost therapeutic at times. ‘There is something you could say is almost boring about the process – and an element of that is repetition. But in a way that repetition is an important part of the process of finding something which is true,’ he says. ‘Each object you make comes imbued with the history of all the objects that were made before.’ Creating something with meaning and longevity adds to the appeal. ‘There is definitely a desire to be around things that are more connected and have a story to tell,’ he says. ‘You look after it in a totally different way because it is altogether more wholesome.’
It is that amalgamation of quiet aesthetics and functionalism that Reddy feels so drawn to. Asked what his favourite object is, his answer is typically, fascinatingly obtuse: ‘It’s an Inuit hooded garment in the British Museum that is made from the pared stomach lining of a walrus,’ he says. ‘It’s a material that is transparent and looks almost like plastic. I found that to be a miraculous testament to human beings surviving – but also wanting to make themselves something that had intrinsic craft and love.’
‘Craft and love’ is a good way to sum up Reddy’s practice as well. Though over the years he has carved too many spoons to count, and they have travelled to far corners of the world, he still feels a deep connection when he encounters them. ‘In past years I have given hundreds of spoons away, and I come across them occasionally, when I’m with friends or family, and I covet them hugely,’ Reddy says with an air of longing. ‘I’ve been thinking about that maybe if I say, “If I give you two new spoons could I have that old one back” and curate a collection of used spoons, because they all have a history. I like the fact that they gain history or a patina and they become something else.’
To see Reddy with all his spoons (old and new) or sharing his slowly acquired knowledge of carving feels like witnessing him amongst dear old friends. He truly believes in the significance of this familiar domestic companion. ‘I suppose what I’m trying to do is to get beyond looking at it just as a thing you use – but eventually as an object that has great power.’