What do you call a wooden spoon when it is not your stock-standard wooden spoon?
Merewether utensil maker Stuart Willis says having a market stall has taught him to have an open mind about such quandaries.
While his unique pieces are highly sought by gallery shops around the Hunter Region, Willis says he prefers markets because meeting the people who use his utensils is "part of the fun".
"It's the contact with people and finding out what they want, and their interests and needs in a piece, that keeps me thinking about different things," he says.
Even if some people do "ask for weird things". Like a part spoon, part spreader.
"Come back next market and see," was his response to that one. That result was a definitive "yeah, it's really good". And so a new utensil, the spoon-spreader combo, was born.
One market day Willis turned up with a little scraper that was inspired by his waste-not approach to leftover timber. "I thought 'oh gee, that's a nice shape'," he says of the small off-cut that he refined into a pretty handy little tool.
"I put it on the table at the market and I asked people 'what do you think this is for?'," Willis says.
"One person said 'you know when you get to the bottom of the jar and you can't get the last bit of Nutella out?'."
The bottom-of-the-jar scraper, as it was then named, has become a mainstay of the range that Willis sells through his brand, Artisan Utensils.
Willis started making utensils six years ago as he was nearing retirement from his career as a high school science teacher.
"You don't just want to sit around and do crossword puzzles, and I don't play golf," he says.
His first hand-hewn utensil was the most basic of timber kitchen tools, the wooden spoon. Willis was soon hooked by the artfulness involved in making a good spoon.
"The transition from bowl to handle in a spoon is the hardest part," he says.
"You've got to work it in just the right way otherwise it's ugly."
His spoon range, from those more petite than the average teaspoon to the "paddle sized" for professional jam-makers, has grown to be a delight of specifics.
Slightly curved handled spoons are serving spoons, and those with flat broad handles are mixers. A variant on the standard mixer deals with straight-sided bowls.
More delicate thin rounded handles make a spoon a good stirrer. Put a hole in the middle and you have a risotto specialist.
There's one for ravioli draining, and one curved just right to skim about a wok. There are double-ended scoops, and there are double-sided scoops.
A muddler handles mashing lime into rum for mojito cocktails. Then there is the bachelor spatula for one-egg frypans.
Willis treats every utensil he makes as a unique item with "an individual shape".
That aesthetic approach was inspired by a visit to a gallery in the hometown of surrealist artist Salvatore Dali in Spain. "I acquired a pair of salad servers," Willis says.
They were made with an asymmetrical structure, in the manner of Dali, giving Willis "the idea that I'm not going to make it symmetrical, I'll make it with a bit of interesting character to it."
Willis's passionate feeling for timber, which emerged during childhood visits to his "Pop's" shed, is also evident in each and every utensil.
Tree root, he points out, is much lighter, suiting delicate objects. Heartwood from the centre of a tree has "beautiful wavy brown lines" that can transform a long-bladed spatula, while an older piece of red cedar is "like chocolate".
Willis is "a harvester", salvaging discarded bits of timber and rescuing branches destined for a mulcher.
"I love storms," he says. Spying a nice-looking branch fallen down he'll "knock on the door" and has yet to find anybody not happy to let him take their debris. Later, he delivers them a utensil made from their branch.
- Artisan Utensils are available at Finite Gallery (Caves Beach), Maitland Regional Art Gallery Shop, Newcastle Art Gallery Shop, Studio Melt, Olive Street Market (only November 2 and December 7).
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