Things men have made with wakened hands
are awake through years with transferred touch, and go on glowing
for long years.
And for this reason, some old things are lovely
warm still with the life of forgotten men who made them.
— D. H. Lawrence, “Things Men Have Made”, from Pansies (1929)
Not long ago, a person who has been a great influence on my woodworking informed me that I’d be receiving a carved wooden bowl in the mail; had had it for years and was passing it along to me. I’ll write more about that person in a special post to come.
A couple weeks ago, the package arrived on my porch. I can’t fully explain what I felt upon opening the box and holding a bowl carved twenty years ago by Bengt Lidstrom, but to say the least, I was thrilled and overwhelmed.
I wrote a post about Bengt Lidstrom over two years ago, including a link to an extensive article about him from a Swedish museum. Bengt’s work has been inspirational to me. To now have a piece made by his hands, to hold it and learn from it, is an incredible gift. As D. H. Lawrence suggests about such objects, this bowl is “warm still” with Bengt’s life and will continue to be for years to come.
I’ve rolled this bowl over in my hands every day, and I thought I’d share a few things I’ve noticed about it, and learned from it.
At about 11 inches long, 10 inches wide, and 5 inches high, it did not require a grand piece of wood, in terms of size or quality. The birch log he used was far from perfect. It has a knot running along one end wall, for example. Don’t let the limitations of available material stop you from making the best of it. The strength of Bengt’s design just brushes those issues aside. He considered the unique nature of the piece he was working with and made it sing.
All surfaces of the bowl come alive with Bengt’s confident cuts. No need to drive yourself crazy with the “perfection” of every facet. The surface is vigorous yet soft. The bowl beckons to be touched. The flow of the form is a feast for the eyes as the light changes throughout the day, but to me the bowl reveals the most by being held. To feel the texture, the thinness of the undercut sidewall — just enough to allow for the depth of decorative carving on the side panel. Even the sounds of tapping fingertips resonating through the wood… Again, to quote Lawrence, this bowl is “awake through years with transferred touch.”
This bowl has many more stories to tell and lessons to teach, but I’ll mention just one more for now. The bottom of the bowl is carved with “BL 99.” He was 83 when he carved this bowl, and there’s a lesson and encouragement in that for us all.