by Renee Ann Pflughaupt
This post is for those of you who are constantly looking for new and exciting things to do in Wheeling.
A few weeks ago during a workshop at Oglebay Institute’s Stifel Fine Arts Center, I held something real in my hands.
Jammed into the chopping block laid a cool, fresh slice of pear wood. Methodically, I brought down the hatchet—red, with a rubber handle—into the fresh, green lumber. Bit by bit, not quite unlike Pygmalion shaping marble, I hacked at the log.
What wondrous thing was I trying to sculpt?
While seemingly trivial, hacking a spoon from a lump of wood isn’t particularly easy—the result in my hands is only vaguely spoon-shaped. But the sense of satisfaction, wrangling hard, dense wood to my own designs, is overwhelming.
Before this day, I couldn’t have told you what a froe even looked like, let alone split logs with one. Neither had I touched a hatchet, a shaving bench, or a carving knife. But through Oglebay Institute’s Spoon Carving Workshop at the Stifel Arts Center, I have experienced something truly remarkable.
Our fearless leader in wielding knives, hatchets and froes is a master craftsman: he was drawn to woodworking as a 3-year-old and has been shaping green wood for nearly 15 years. Upon first glance, you are immediately struck by his easy-going attitude: laid-back, friendly, encouraging, and patient.
Of course, unless you noticed the kilt first.
Brad Fritz (also known as the “Kilted Crafter”) of St. Clairsville, Ohio has led dozens of traditional woodworking workshops throughout the Ohio Valley. From his home workshop he constructs and restores wooden furniture and trinkets by hand, in addition to teaching his craft at local workshops and festivals.
He teaches toddlers as easily as adults in the basics of woodworking. In fact, he will be at the Wheeling Arts Festival on June 20, 2015, teaching young children how to build wooden chairs by hand.
That’s right: no power tools in these classes. Fritz, an off-gridder and traditional artisan, has built (and taught others how to build) entire houses with nothing but his hands and his handmade woodworking tools. The ease with which he wields his tools is nothing short of mesmerizing; every moment spent watching him teach is chock-full of information.
And who taught the teacher? Himself, of course.
“I learned from a lot of research,” Fritz said, “and a lot of practice.” His first spoon—after watching festival artisans charge $40-$60 per piece—took him at least an hour’s worth of knife work to fashion.
“And it was only good for kindling,” he said with a smile. The rest of us smiled with him, as we continued to chisel away at our lumpy spoons.
Offering workshops with guest artists like Fritz allows Oglebay Institute to further its mission to provide a wide variety of arts and cultural programs to residents of Wheeling and surrounding communities.
Rachel Shipley, an art educator at the Stifel Fine Arts Center, said that bringing in guest instructors helps keep things fresh and offers the Wheeling arts community access to new and interesting artists and their work.
“Each of us here at Stifel has our own set of skills and particular mediums we love, but what we really love is art. That’s what binds us together. By providing diverse experiences in the arts we hope to inspire students to develop new skills, explore their creativity and learn a few things not just about the medium but also about themselves.”
If nothing else, Fritz convinced us that anyone can learn to work with wood and create durable, hardy, and lasting goods. While we lacked his experience in turning wood into spoons, we needed only look to see what a little grit and determination could do on the road to mastery.
And that was incredibly empowering.