This is an ale bowl, a fairly plain one but one which I think is really special. The area of Wisconsin where I am staying was settled by many Scandinavians, when they came here they brought with them some portable family heirlooms and amongst those are often old ale bowls. What is exciting is that local turners are rediscovering that tradition, both Jarrod Stone Dahl who I am staying with and Roger Abrahamson turn great ale bowls. The bowl above is an old one from Roger’s collection, I have heard of Roger’s work for quite a while but met him for the first time at North House Folk School, he is a lovely guy and plays fantastic banjo, here he is with me on harmonica and Jarrod on guitar, we had great fun.
Back to the ale bowls, Roger made a small bowl inspired by his old on, I loved that bowl and was thrilled that he offered it to me, we did a trade. I then made a bowl inspired by Roger’s bowl or rather I altered one I had on the lathe and carved it using similar patterns. I was quite pleased with it but when I saw the original I realised it was even better. Here are the three bowls together.
Ruskin used to be a big advocate of drawing. He said that by making a good drawing of something you could really understand it and particularly understand what made things beautiful. I find the same with making copies of bowls on the lathe. Sometimes it is not easy to see just what exactly makes a design so sweet. i went back and made an exact copy of the old bowl. As I worked on it I began to see the small details. The delightful plump shape, the way the profile flowed through the detail ridge toward the rim, the way the rim was slightly concave which works really well for drinking from and most of all the simply wonderful decoration.Decoration like this is really hard to do, at a glance it looks so simple but if you mark it out or carve it too evenly it looses all it’s life and vitality. To do it properly you need to work quickly and freely with positive knife cuts. When making copies of something like this bowl the first one always looks slightly stiff because of the need to stop and measure but having made that one a second one can be much more free. I love this bowl in so many ways and I am sure that this detail will be appearing in many of my bowls in the future.
The other exciting thing about ale bowls is that people are starting to use them, they go very well with the growth in craft brewing. Like my quaichs they can either be small and personal or larger and communal. Here Jarrod and I are sharing a bowl of ale.