When I first agreed to teach a whittling workshop for Chewonki Semester School’s homesteading weekend, I was ecstatic for the opportunity. However, that excitement soon died down when I realized that I had just agreed to teach a large mass of teenagers, many of whom have never made anything before, intricate knife-skills, miles away from the nearest hospital. However, the Chewonki students, as well as students from the Harlem Children’s’ Zone who were on campus for an Outdoor Classroom program, surprised me not only with their caution and responsibility, but with the talent and enjoyment for the art of whittling which they demonstrated.
A bit about homesteading day at Chewonki, essentially, this is a day in which Chewonki celebrates the spirit of self-reliance and sustainability by teaching homesteading skills. Home steading skills date back to the Homestead Law of 1847 that gave the American people the right to claim land by establishing a homestead upon it. Today, homesteading has come to be defined as the practice of acquiring all of a communities needs from the land around it. This means making things yourself. For Chewonki’s homesteading day there were workshops on rug hooking, spinning and weaving, yarn dying, bee-keeping, hide tanning, fiber arts, soap making, hide tanning, and spoon carving.
I have been whittling since I got my first knife at age eight. My skills were honored when Caitlin, one of the Farmers here at Chewonki and a fellow talented carver, asked me to teach my skills to my fellow students. Growing up whittling, I learned the hard way that with great carving comes many small injuries, and I was worried about teaching a potentially dangerous skill. However, I had no reason to worry. We all had a great time up at the Sunrise cabin, carving the blanks, which Caitlin and I had split the previous morning. No injuries occurred, and I greatly enjoyed the whole atmosphere of the experience. The smell of cedar and birch, mixed with sheep’s fat wafted through the air. People were sitting in circles, chatting and whittling, while Caitlin and a handful of students vigorously scraped fat hide from a sheep’s hide, all while spurred on from the delightful sounds spawning from Lucas, Sebastian, and Paul Arthur’s instruments. What truly warmed my heart that day was the amount of interest and talent displayed by the students. Most of the objects carved that day turned out far better than my first attempts at spoon carving nine years ago. While it may sound annoying to some to be bombarded with questions such as, “Dave, how do I get rid of these rough edges around the sides of my spoon’s bowl?” I was thoroughly proud at the curiosity my peers showed for a skill which, unfortunately, an increasing amount of people see as outdated.
– Dave Long, The Paideia School, Atlanta, GA