Watching Steve Folkers explain carving spoons is like watching a dancer interpret trees in the breeze.
“When I started this one it was straight,” said Steve, holding his forearm up next to a green wood, roughed-out spoon. “But there was a knot hidden in it and as it started to dry it twisted.”
He performs an elaborate twist and curve with his arm as he raises the spoon for emphasis. The young man and his grandfather watch, entranced. Steve dances his way through showing the different ways spoons can be roughed out of tree limbs, his upper body swaying back and forth and his arms adding the twists and curves.
“I do most of the work with a draw knife,” Steve said, demonstrating on a walnut spoon he clamps into his shaving horse. He roughs out the spoons in green wood, and then he lets them dry and cure before starting the finishing and polishing. The visitor asks if the spoons will stay the same shape and size when finished. Steve explains that when they are cured, dried, sanded and oiled, they are finished. With reasonable care, they will stay the same shape for lifetimes.

“But do you need to keep them separate?” continues the visitor. “Like keep them for special uses?”

Steve’s eyes twinkle and he smiles. Picking up two spoons, he said, “Like saving this one for lasagna and this one for soup?”
Wood has always been a part of Steve’s life. He remembers working at home with his dad, even before he was old enough to go to school. He took wood shop in Junior High School and in college he took classes in design and a few semesters of pottery. He’s been working with raw wood since 1973, when he and his wife Arlone moved to their land above the town of Mountain View, Arkansas.
“My wood working comes from being born on Earth,” said Steve. “Living in the woods, breathing wood -and when you’ve got no money, you learn to make things with what you’ve got.”

His professional woodworking started with spoon carving. He was working in Thomas Rustic Cabins, a rustic furniture shop in Mountain View and taking home the band saw scraps to burn as fire wood. Arlone started doing craft shows with her weavings. When he was helping her with the craft shows, he saw wooden spoons selling for $30 to $40 each. Steve started carving spoons out of the wood scraps.

Steve started at the Folk Center working with long-time friend Owen Rein in the furniture shop. The Folk Center was open 7-days-a-week then and Owen needed a couple days off.

“Zach, our eldest boy worked for him first,” explained Steve, “and I had drop spindles and looms in the Gift Shop.”

Once Steve began working at the Folk Center, he filled in for several shops. He worked at the Foot Lathe and in the Furniture Shop before he was moved into the Cooper Shop. There he was given a Committee of 100 apprenticeship with Keith Bowman to learn white coopering.
“White coopering includes anything that goes with dairying,” explains Steve. “Not just the churns and buckets, but also dough bowls, spoons, axe handles.”

He picks up an axe that was lying next to his carving bench and looks introspective. He holds the axe up and then lays it down on the bench, rubbing his hand along the smooth handle.

“That’s how this all really started,” he muses, looking around the Cooper Shop. “Moving into the woods and learning to keep handles on hoes.”

Steve Folkers was awarded “Crafter of the Year” at the Ozark Folk Center in 2008. You can visit with Steve and his wood working companions in the Ozark Folk Center Cooper Shop from 10:00 to 5:00, Tuesday through Saturday.