James Spring has lived in the woods for 35 years. He grew up surrounded by nature, and now lives with his wife Jane in the timber near Burlington. Spring’s connection to nature is evident in his work: He creates intricate illustrations of birds and plant life and is known internationally for his carvings of birds. You can find his “perfectly imperfect” wooden bowls and platters at the Iowa City Farmers Market on Saturdays and more of his work at his Etsy shop, JSpringCreations.
Little Village: What is your background? Where are you from, and what lead you into making artisan bowls?
James Spring: I spent my childhood out of doors. My grandfather was Frederic Leopold — Aldo’s younger brother. Their father, Carl, started a fine wood office furniture factory around the turn of the century, Leopold Desk Co. Their roll top desks are prized even today. So, with the foundation of nature and wood in my life, I moved ahead as an artist, painting water color bird portraits, botanicals and, on occasion, painting and carving wooden decorative decoys and birds.
How did you become interested in making bowls, and who did you learn from?
I had always dreamt of making wooden bowls, but it is a daunting process. I heard of a workshop in Colorado [where I went and learned from the wood sculptor] Trent Bosch. I came home and took it in my own direction. Now, hundreds of bowls later, I am still enthralled.
What other kinds of items do you create?
I have quite a body of work spread from here to Japan! My first carving, when I was 24, won first place at the International Carving Contest at the Mississippi Valley Fair, and a carving of a running Canada goose, wings up, took best of show at the world championship in Ocean City, Md.
What inspires your work? Where do you get the wood you make your projects from?
Each piece is unique. Each type of wood has its own character. There’s a lovely spontaneity as each piece of wood determines its design.
Where do you get your materials for your projects?
The wood for my projects comes from our acres. Black cherry has become my favorite. Our son, Willow, is with Black Squirrel tree service in Iowa City, and he comes up with a terrific variety of species for me.
What kinds of art and crafts do you personally collect or decorate with?
My lovely wife Jane and I live in the timber north of Burlington. We moved there in 1980. We built a timber frame across from our mobile home. We moved out of there and moved in with our three children. Some of the timber from the [land] went into the house (floors, trim) and some went into my workshop, which stands where the mobile home was. It’s my home during the day — project to project.
Are there any special projects you’d like to do in the future or that you’re working on now?
I enjoyed my woodworking projects this winter — wedding presents for two of our kids — but now I’m back to bowls, big bowls. Looks like I’ll need a bigger lathe.