Multi-strand spoons

In the museum at Rennes is a collection of 72 Breton decorated spoons, all from the Pays Vannetais, the area around the city of Vannes in the South of Brittany.  They are all fairly distinctive in style, and are often decorated with elaborate chip-carving and piercing. However none have the coloured wax inlay so prevalent in spoons from further west in Finistère.

Within this collection are a group of spoons that are mainly from around the town of Auray, just to the west of Vannes. These are all one-piece spoons made of boxwood, but are distinguished by having their spoon-necks carved in multiple strands, to look like separate pieces of rope. Some have three strands, some have five, one has nine and one has ten strands!  This rope-like motif is seen on other spoons from the Vannetais area, but always further up the handle, often outlining the flat part of the handle.

Spoon number 955.1.46 is probably the crudest of these spoons. It has a 5-strand neck, and a very simple shaped handle, decorated only with a chevron pattern.  Interestingly it is possible to see evidence of a hole having been drilled to create the two layers of rope strands.

There are two spoons that are documented as having come from the village of Plumergat, so it's possible that they were made by the same person. The first (955-1-60) has nine strands in the neck, in three rows, with a simple rectangular handle. However the back of the spoon is carved into a rather bizarre three-legged soldier!  There is also a coquille St Jaques (the symbol of St James of Compostela) carved on the back of the bowl.

The second from Plumergat (955-1-49) has TEN quite long and delicate strands in the neck in two rows, and is further decorated with pewter inlay on the front of the handle.

This inlay is relatively fine work - much metal inlay in spoons is quite crude. The pattern is of a monstrance and a heart - the spoon is really something of a tour de force!

Spoon number 955.1.45 (below) made in either 1812 or 1872 is pierced throughout the handle with wheel-shaped patterns. It has nine rope strands to the handle, in three rows. Despite its appearance, this spoon is not too uncomfortable in the hand, but you have to hold it well up the handle to avoid the ridge across the underneath of the spoon! Notice how much crank the maker has managed to get into this slightly ungainly spoon.

955.1.43 (below) is a five-stranded spoon. It is  decorated front and back with quite delicate chip-carving. The decoration also incorporates the coquille St Jaques motif, but this time it's on the back of the handle. I think this is quite an elegant spoon.

Getting a bit more ornate, below is a spoon from Auray (Rennes 955.1.48) with rather more sophisticated decoration front and back with some delicate chip-carving and scrolls. This one has only three strands in the neck, only two of which are carved to look like rope.

Lastly, there are two spoons from the village of Ploermel, to the NW of Vannes, quite a long way from where the others were made.

These two have just three strands in the neck, but the strands are quite long and are twisted around each other to make most unlikely-looking spoons! One (955-1-42, above) is considerably less finely carved than the other (955-1-36 below), but they are almost certainly made  by the same person, having exactly the same type of shape and decoration.

This second spoon is just an astonishing bit of spoonage! Three fine, twisted strands form the remarkably-cranked neck of this spoon, with a church-window-like piercing in the handle above, surmounted by a pierced rosette. Most charming is the tiny leaf on the back where the neck joins the handle.

I had seen pictures of this spoon before I actually went to see them in Rennes 18 months ago. But I was absolutely astonished at the shape and intricacy of this spoon! So much so that I have eventually managed to attempt a copy…

A kind person who lives in Portugal, who came to our Festival ‘Fines Lames et Petites Cuillères’ in April brought me a huge, bent branch of tree heather (erica arborea) which was the perfect shape and size for making a copy of this spoon. It required a bit of mental shape-juggling to get the three strands to work, but heres my version. The wood has twisted and wound somewhat with drying so the handle has bent over sideways a bit. Plus I had a nasty moment when I thought the back of the bowl was going to crack. I decided to vary the pattern slightly this time by adding two leaves to the underneath of the handle.

It was an interesting bit of carving to try.


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