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  • Installation image 1980s-1990s

    Maker: Levi Borgstrom
    Courtesy Private Collection

Levi Borgstrom

19 September 2004 - 19 September 2004

Levi Borgstrom's entry in the 1986 edition of The Craft Hunters Guide - written by Fiona Thompson and Len Castle - is to the point; it simply says "Maker of spoons of distinction". Borgstrom was a maker who made just one type of object, hand carved wooden spoons. His lifetime's experience as a wood carver and whittler, his single focus as a maker and the traditional knowledge of earlier generations all converge in these spoons to make them works of great presence.

Borgstrom was born just outside the Arctic Circle in Sweden in a society where Lapp culture was strong. One of the strongest Lapp crafts is spoon carving and spoons were often worn. Borgstrom's father taught him this traditional craft and many a long northern night was spent whittling spoons, ladles and bowls in front of the fire.

Borgstrom moved to New Zealand in 1951 and from then on his spoons uniquely fuse traditional Scandinavian practice with the New Zealand environment. Sourcing wood from beaches, the bush and from friends, Borgstrom made spoons using both New Zealand indigenous and exotic woods including Kowhai, Tanekaka, Akeake, Rewarewa, Manuka, Macrocarpa, Cherrywood, Privet, Mangrove, Silky Oak and Grevillea. His favourite woods for carving were Mingimingi, Pohutakawa and Puriri.

Each spoon is unique, an individual response to the size and grain of a particular piece of wood. Once a piece of wood was selected an outline was drawn on the block and a rough shape made using a traditional Scandinavian bow saw. The wood was further shaped while being held in a vice and worked by chisels and knives, no mechanical tools were involved. The final form was realised using files and rasps and then began a long process of sanding, which was followed by oiling and waxing. Work on individual spoons was undertaken over weeks, or sometimes months, as Borgstrom often liked to put works to one side and then come back to them.

The spoons in this collection were all made in the 1980s and 1990s and were acquired directly from Borgstrom, with whom the collector developed a friendship that lasted until his death. The labels attached to some spoons were put on at the time of an earlier loan and the owner has retained them.

Levi Borgstrom was born in 1923 in Lycksele, Sweden and died in Titirangi, Auckland in 2001. He made spoons until a year or two before he died.