What, When, Where: Bowled Over

November 26, 2012

By Kaitlin Madden 

Typically, I’m not the type to collect souvenirs from my travels. (When you live in a “charming‖real-estate-speak for “tiny‖one-bedroom apartment in Boston, you’re discerning about what you bring home.) But on a recent vacation in Belize, I couldn’t help but buy a few things to remember the trip.

For one, it was my honeymoon and I wanted something to remind me of such a great time (not to mention great fortune–my husband and I managed to get on the very last flight out of Newark Airport the day Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey). But, what really convinced me to make a vacation purchase was the beauty of the woodworking offered by the vendors who lined the streets of Ambergris Caye, the island we visited.

Belize is known for its tropical hardwood–mahogany is the country’s national tree–and the people there know how to bring out the best in it. We marveled over hand-carved wooden beads, sculptures, furnishings and utensils, but the piece we eventually settled on was a simple, useful wooden bowl, expertly whittled and polished by the hands of a local man. A one-of-a-kind purchase with a story–my favorite kind.

Though New England and Belize don’t have all that much in common (a fact that was underscored by our return to Boston’s chilly fall temperatures), they do share a propensity for the craft of woodworking, and I’m happy to say that there are quite a few places here where you can find beautiful, one-of-a-kind wooden objects.

Yale Bowls was started by Yale University molecular biophysics professor Scott Strobel, after he tired of seeing old trees around campus sawed down and hauled to the dump in order to make way for new buildings. Now the trees are repurposed into handmade wooden pens and bowls, part of the proceeds from which go to the cost of planting new trees on campus.

Bulldog Hockey maple bowl. Photos courtesy of Yale Bowls

Phelps Gate elm bowl

Artist Ray Asselin creates each of his one-of-a-kind wooden bowls on a woodturning lathe in his studio in Western Massachusetts, using wood from around North America and Australia.

Red Oak burl wood bowl. Photos courtesy of Ray Asselin

Applewood bowl

Sweetgum oval bowl

Stephen Staples, a Massachusetts furniture maker whose work we’ve featured on the blog before, is known for his hand-turned wood bowls crafted in the Japanese tradition of “Wabi-Sabi,” a principle that embraces the imperfect. All of his bowls are also made from reclaimed wood.

Apple bowl. Photos courtesy of Stephen Staples

Black walnut bowl

Once I move out of my “charming” apartment, I may even start a collection of these!