Brad Smith is one of those gifted artists who move effortlessly across media, from stained glass to stringed instruments to woodcarving.
You may know Smith as the smiling presence behind a dazzling array of hand-carved wooden spoons, bowls, and spurdles that he sells at the Musquodoboit Harbour Farmers’ Market under the name, “Tinkers Hollow.” (The name is an oblique tribute to gypsies, also known as tinkers.)
As a young boy, Brad spent time in his grandfather’s woodshed watching him repair household items and make wooden spoons. He learned tricks of the trade from his grandfather, such as scraping with a piece of broken glass if you did not have sandpaper. He learned to use a gouge and a jack knife. The first spoons he made were Christmas presents for his family in 1977.
Brad now sells spoons with Celtic and Nordic motifs. This began when the general store in Norse Cove in East Ship Harbour asked for some of Brad’s work. Ever the artist willing to improve his product, Brad added a Norse motif of wood spirits.
Brad is also an accomplished musician, and a skilled restorer of violins. About thirty years ago, he bought an instrument case that came with a broken violin. He had the violin assessed for repairs, estimated $600 in 1983. “The heck with that,” Brad told me, “so I went out and bought books on violin repair and rebuilt it myself.”
Brad took stained glass lessons from local artist Colin Cameron, leading to commissions for stained glass windows of the sun setting over the water, two six-foot high trilliums, and a mermaid on a rock with the waves crashing in. When he and Colin took breaks from their stained glass work, Colin would play the fiddle, leading Brad to take up the violin and join in. Later on, he took lessons from the great Nova Scotia fiddler, Gordon Stobbe.
I asked Brad if there were any similarity between his stained glass work and his woodworking projects. “A spoon starts with a raw piece of wood. I have an idea when I start, but it may not come to be. It depends on how the wood cuts, how it feels. When you sand it, the grain comes out and then I oil it and the wood comes to life. A stained glass piece, however, requires planning, having the right glass.”
I also asked Brad what inspires him. He replied, “I want to make something nice, something that people enjoy. It’s satisfying work and the wood inspires me. Maple and cherry are my favorites, for the smoothness of their grains. And birch makes good spoons.”
Brad loves working with wood grain. “The grain around roots can be affected by the ambrosia beetle that creates unique patterns. Where the grain changes direction, it can be difficult. You always carve with the grain; you can’t go against it. Birch, plum and pear wood are denser woods. I also like lilac wood.”
Come out to the Farmers’ Market on Sundays in Musquodoboit Harbour to see an array of Brad’s modestly priced spoons, bowls, and spurdles, elegantly displayed on a black velvet tablecloth. And if you want to know anything about carving, just ask!