What emerges from wood 'an amazing thing'
Darrell Lloyd’s right hand isn’t as steady on the scroll saw as it once was. A recent piece he was working on called for a precise cut, leaving no room for error. The design called for four tiny crosses the size of clover leaves, representing the four gospels, on each corner of a larger cross. A millimeter too deep into the wood with the scroll saw, one little slip, and a tiny little cross would be lopped off.
That’s exactly what happened.
“I told him to just cut the rest off,” said his wife of 60 years, Dottie.
“It’s sad I can’t perform to the same standard,” Lloyd said. “My hand used to be much more steady. It messes me up now.”
The object of Lloyd's attention was a Welsh love spoon, a wooden spoon with an intricately carved handle. Making them has been Lloyd's post-retirement preoccupation, though he had never even heard of them until 13 years ago.
The custom of love spoons originated hundreds of years ago in Britain. A young man would spend hours carving the spoon with his own hands, in the hope that the girl would accept it. If the girl accepted the spoon, that demonstrated her interest in him and they would begin a relationship.
The Lloyds took a vacation to the British Isles in 2000, and while waiting to board a ferry that would take them from Wales to Ireland, they saw a collection of love spoons in a waiting area near the boat. Lloyd examined them carefully and, with the keen eye for woodwork he developed during a career making furniture, he realized that while pretty, the spoons looked factory-made. He felt a hand-made spoon would be more interesting to look at.
“We bought one, and I thought, 'That didn’t look that hard to make,'” he said.
Lloyd got his first smell of wood chips in furniture plants after he and Dottie moved to Lenoir in 1958. He started out as a mail clerk at Tomlinson Furniture and then carved out a 37-year career at Bernhardt Furniture, working his way up to upholstery/engineering manager before retiring in 1995.
"That's how I got the experience to make spoons," Lloyd recalls.
Intent on improving upon the spoons he saw at that ferry in Wales, he set out buying wood boards and stacking them inside his workshop. The rich smell of mahogany, cherry and other hardwoods filled the room.
“I like to work with mahogany, it cuts easy,” Lloyd said. “But it is still a hard wood. A lot of people pick out the soft stuff, but it’s not as pretty.”
As he made spoons and showed them around, folks in the area began requesting specific kinds of designs for spoons. Dottie would make suggestions, and Darrell would sketch them out on graph paper.
“If anybody asked for a spoon, he would design it and make it,” Dottie said proudly.
Soon, someone who worked alongside Dottie as a volunteer at the J. Iverson Riddle Developmental Center in Morganton began to suggest names for each spoon based on its design: Tree of Life, Hearts Entwined, Touched by an Angel, God in Three Persons, Hearts and Flowers.
Once a spoon pattern is laid out, he begins the slow process of cutting the intricate piece. Before a piece is finished, which could take up to a month, it may have been chiseled, routed and filed to its final shape. Then, it undergoes lots of hand-sanding before it is complete.
In 2002, he would carve one of his most cherished love spoons, commemorating his 50 years of marriage to Dottie: Two hearts, about the size of silver dollars, overlapping one another, with the names Dottie and Darrell on each. Two tiny carved bells hang below a little scroll with the inscription, "50 golden years.”
Now 80, Lloyd is slowing his production of the spoons. Lloyd estimates he has made about 100 over the past 13 years for family, friends and to sell. His last finished creation was completed earlier this year for a fellow church member. He now is slowly fashioning a spoon in the shape of a cross for a friend’s daughter.
About half of the spoons he has made are now on display through the end of April at the Caldwell Heritage Museum at 112 Vaiden St.
“They’re breathtaking,” said Colin Foust, associate director of the Caldwell Heritage Museum. “Carving is a craft. The intricacy of some of the spoons is out of this world. It’s an amazing thing.”
Doctors don't yet know why Darrell Lloyd's hand shakes. He doesn't let it stop him. Both he and Dottie still volunteer in the community, and like to take walks around their modest Main Street home. He also has a few other unfinished spoons besides the one he's making for his friend's daughter, and he gets to the workbench when he feels able.
The workbench still beckons.