The wooden spoons of Tryyn Gallery

By Kinsee Morlan, originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 2/10/2009

With his white beard and green apron, William Chappelow looks a little like Santa Claus. The fact that he has a workshop out back does nothing to thwart the illusion.

But Chappelow doesn’t make toys; he makes wooden utensils—spoons, mainly—and sells the pieces of cut and crafted wood for around $50 a pop.

The pricey utensils are works of art, though, and Chappelow’s collectors know how many hours, how much thought and how much love he puts into every hunk of wood.

“I’ve been at this now for 35 years,” the craftsman says, leading the way from his Tryyn Gallery, where he showcases his wood works, to his Hissing Camel Gallery, where he shows others’ arts and crafts, then back again to his workshop, where he and his assistants spend hours cutting, buffing and waxing each piece. Chappelow’s plot of land (on the winding Old Highway 80 in Guatay) isn’t big, but the old guy’s managed to put every inch of land to use, building what’s become a cultural refuge in an area known more as a refuge for wildlife.

“It doesn’t seem like I’ve been doing this for that long,” Chappelow says. “It seems like maybe four or five or six years, but even after that fairly protracted period of time, I still look forward to every day, and it’s still an exciting experience to step up to the band saw with a limb or a log and kind of study it a little bit to see what it might have to offer, then dive in.”

The band saw is Chappelow’s sketchpad. He rarely draws lines directly onto the wood because he’d rather let the natural grains and curves of each piece guide the blade.

“The first cut often can reveal new direction that a piece of wood might like to go in,” Chappelow explains. “I don’t want an artificial line that pulls my eye away from what that piece of wood has to say. It’s sort of a metaphorical dialogue, I guess you might say. I let the wood have a voice in the process.”

After the process is complete, and Chappelow has his spoon, he picks up the scraps of wood he’s cut away and puts them to use, too. Bigger pieces become knives or paddles, smaller pieces become pendants for the jewelry he makes, splinters become kindling for the fire that heats his home, and the sawdust becomes mulch for friends or ash-glaze for his pottery.

Chappelow tries to use only certified wood (responsibly chopped), recycled wood or wood brought in by customers who want an old tree of theirs to have a new life as a utensil.

“Trees are special to lots of people,” he says, pointing to a box of logs his neighbor brought in after one of their fruit trees died.

And just to add a little personality to his utensils, Chappelow adds funny little tags to each piece.

“People seem to enjoy that a lot, and it kind of gets your imagination started,” he says. “So, instead of just being a knife or a peanut-butter knife, it’s a ‘Stick-to-the-Roof-of-Your-Mouth Knife’ or a ‘Glue-in-Your-Dentures Knife.’”

Chappelow chuckles, kind of Santa-like, then shows off his impressive “Beef Stalk Tomato Soup W/ Jump Lima Beans and Ham-Hawk Stirrer” made out of a beautiful Birdseye Maple.

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