Artist Allen Berry whittled during our interview. In one hand, he held a circle of yellow cedar, a wood that’s only found in certain parts of the Pacific Northwest. The wooden circle had a sketch of a flower on it. With his trusty pocketknife, he methodically removed wispy shavings of wood to bring form to what will eventually be a drop spindle.
Weaving tools, spreader spatulas and spoons – all sorts of wooden spoons – are the mainstay of his art. He’s even carved wooden buttons. “Old-timer” brand of pocket knives made before 2004 are the best,” he said. “Back then, they still made them with high carbon steel.”
His carvings are a traditional expression of his love of texture with ornamental designs featuring patterns of flowers and vines. Chip carving (using knives to remove small chips of material from a flat surface or a single piece) gives his decorative pieces an uneven, chiseled look.
Allen’s work is forest-to-table, often from locally-harvested river birch. All items are handmade in the old style using non-electric tools. He has also worked as a gardener/landscaper and as a sign painter. He settled into woodcarving for its therapeutic benefits.
Born in Sedona, Arizona, Allen spent the better part of his younger years in Las Vegas. He left the bustle of Seattle for the beauty of Bellingham in 2010 to be close to family. He’s the father of two and the son of a carpenter. His mom was also an artist.
Allen has had his fair share of struggles, and he values his independence and privacy. At this juncture, his only responsibility is to himself. He commented that marching to a beat that is his very own and “living a very simple life means there is very little anyone can take away from you.” Living in Bellingham can be challenging, but he added, “Those of us who want to live here will do whatever it takes to make it work.”
Allen is a self-made artist. We spoke about the value of learning the rules. “If you don’t know the rules, how can you break them?” he asked, noting with a grin that he once made a wooden still life that was a bowl full of noses.
Sometimes Allen’s customers forget that he makes each spoon by hand – one at a time. There may sometimes be a wait for something particularly popular, which isn’t a bad thing. After all, he makes “a pre-nineteenth-century craft in a twenty-first-century market.”
You can find Allen and his work at Mount Vernon and Sedro-Woolley farmers markets, or at Brazen shop + studio in Bellingham. He also participates in certain indoor shows. His business slows down some in winter, but not much. When Allen isn’t carving he enjoys cooking and sketching.
The best way to connect with Allen and see his new work is to follow him on Instagram. In addition to his art, visitors can experience his sense of humor, which brought many a smile to my face. Be sure to message him. He appreciates the conversation. That is also the most direct way to purchase his beautiful hand-carved wooden items.