Tag Archives: Vesterheim

Craft aftermath

In museum
Owen Christianson describes original melkerings to class members.

Home is the sailor, as the poem goes, and the hunter home from the hill. I got back to Blithering Heights after 8:00 p.m. last night, having driven over three hours, and just didn’t feel up to blogging. So here, now, is my report on my course at the Vesterheim Folk School in Decorah, Iowa.

Decorah is a nice little town, located in a picturesque, hilly area of northeastern Iowa. The Vesterheim Norwegian immigration museum is one of the town’s economic and cultural mainstays, and the town was setting up for the annual Nordic Fest, which began today (I never planned to attend, being pretty sure I’d be played out after the class. I was more right than I knew.)

I’m very glad I took the four-day class. It was even more demanding than I expected – planing wood, especially, uses a lot of upper body strength (at least the way I do it. They tell me practiced woodworkers have economical methods that are far less taxing). Our class was called “Stave Vessels From the Past to the Present.” The teacher was Owen Christianson, who is a cryogenic engineer by day, but does historical wordworking in his spare time. He’s been studying the Viking Age recently, which made his instruction invaluable to me.

Our project was to produce a relatively simple stave vessel – what’s known as a melkering (milk ring). They were used to separate cream in old times, back to Viking times.

Owen provided us with short staves (12 each), pre-cut to save time. So the angles of the edges were no problem. He used bass wood (to make it easy), though the originals were usually pine. Our tasks were: Continue reading Craft aftermath

Further dispatch from Decorah

I didn’t expect to get an upper body workout when I signed up for this class in making a stave vessel. Turns out planing wood for several hours takes a lot out of you.

This morning went pretty well. I moved on to the part of the process I’d dreaded most – pegging the individual staves to one another. Turned out it was easier than I thought, and I kind of got into it. Even had moments of a heady sense of accomplishment. But once that was done, the next step was taking the vessel (think of a small wooden tub) apart and planing down the outsides of the staves, which we’d previously shaped on the inside. I was still working on that when the class day ended.

Tomorrow is the final day, and I’m about three steps behind all the others. The last step is decorating the completed vessel, which is not mandatory. I have a suspicion I won’t get to that one. I have a further suspicion the instructor will have to help me finish the thing.

Maybe I’ll get a participation trophy – senior division.

Dispatch from Decorah

Reporting from Decorah, Iowa, where I’m taking a class in stave vessel making at the Vesterheim (Museum) Folk School. My instructor is a gentleman I already knew slightly, having run into him at Høstfest in Minot a few years back.

It’s a disorienting experience, taking a craft class. I’m accustomed to working with my brain, for many reasons. I’m not comfortable making things. I don’t feel like what John Bunyan called “a man of his hands.” So I’m out of my element, which is probably good for me. I’m the most inexperienced of all the students (there are 6 of us), so I’m 2 or 3 steps behind the others. But the instructor says I’m actually on schedule — the others are just running ahead. Nonetheless, I’m gradually improving as I repeat various tasks. I’m reluctant to say that though, because I firmly believe that if I allow myself to think I’m getting better at something, the universe will punish my hubris.

Our teacher is a low-key, patient fellow, which is good. I’ve only cut myself twice, and only one of those required a bandage (not a big one). Manual work and standing most of the day are novelties in my life, and I’m pretty beat by the time I get home.

But I did work up the nerve to approach the museum bookstore people about selling Viking Legacy.

I’ll share pictures after I get home, when I can get my hands on my Photobucket password.