Woodworker Phil Odden carving in his home studio.

From Woodworker Phil Odden

For many, handwork is a therapeutic activity in a stressful world. Making things with your hands helps the time go by. These days when people need to practice social distancing, it is a natural time to turn to our favorite handwork or folk art. Being creative and expressing ourselves by making traditional or non-traditional folk art can offer individuals great pleasure. Making traditional Scandinavian comfort food might lift the spirits as well.

Else and I were in Florida playing with and competing our horses since Christmas time. We brought several carving projects with us. We were able to make a number of folk-art pieces on our sunny Florida porch. But when the COVID-19 virus started to take ahold we soon realized we were better off riding the virus out on our Wisconsin farm. It took a few days to clean up and haul all the tools and projects back to our studios. Settling back into a studio routine has certainly helped our level of stress during these uncertain times. I enjoy listening to chill music while I carve. Else seems to like quiet time. Fortunately we both have our own studio space.

Now is the time to recover the unfinished projects you may have in your closet or storage area. Now is the time to get your carving tools, paint brushes, or weaving out. Take courage and just get started. Now is a good time to start a new project as well. Perhaps the current situation moves you to express yourself in your art work in a new way. Don’t be afraid to just do it. Sure, you might run into some problems and maybe make what might look like a mistake. I have often found that discovering a remedy for what I considered a mistake leads to a new form in my art.

Many schools are not in session now. This means that young people are home. Many are being home schooled. They are not able to do all the activities that young people are used to doing these days in America. This is a perfect time to introduce young people to handwork. Perhaps we can share our joy of creativity and self-expression in traditional folk art with our young people. Maybe they will find that handwork makes time fly. And maybe they will learn a new life skill in much the same way that our ancestors in Norway passed on handwork skills in the home when there was plenty of time and not much to do.

Phillip Odden is a professional woodcarver, Vesterheim Gold Medalist, and instructor at Vesterheim Folk Art School. He trained at the Hjerleid School in Dovre, Norway, and he and his wife, Else Bigton, have a workshop near Barronett, Wisconsin. Together, they authored the books Treskjærer Kunsten (The Art of Woodcarving) and Laerebok i Treskjaering (Textbook in Woodcarving).

Find more about his Vesterheim classes here.