Meet Your Neighbor is a new feature that introduces, or perhaps re-introduces, you to fellow Homer community members.
Willow Q. Jones is as passionate about carving wooden utensils and making broomcorn brooms as she is for teaching others the joy of and skills for creating handmade items that are both beautiful and practical.
Her own foray into spoon carving began with a class with carver Tony Perelli five years ago.
“I wanted to work with wood, but didn’t like the idea of power tools and sanders as the process,” she said. “I was determined that there must be another way to carve and I found it in hand carving with Tony.”
So inspired, she has been carving spoons nearly every day since, as well as participating in online forums.
“Spoon carvers are really social and their level of community involvement and sharing with each other is something I’ve not encountered in any other craft,” she said.
Jones participates in spoon-carving Zoom rooms, including Rise Up and Carve, a room that is open 24 hours a day with participants from all around the world who gather online and often in person to trade tools, knowledge and spoons. It was through her spoon-carving community that Jones came to broom making.
“I often carve in the evenings with makers from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Germany, and through this room and Instagram sharing, I discovered that many spoon carvers are also broom makers,” she shared.
Interacting with and following several broom makers, a year ago, Jones connected with a broom maker/carver in Kentucky with whom she swapped some of her carved spoons for a broom-making kit. Again, she was hooked, making her first broom, which she took apart and redid and now uses daily in her home. Since then, she has made more than 100 brooms and taught numerous classes and dozens of individuals the craft of broom making.
“Now my life is less spoons and more brooms,” she said.
Born and raised in Northwestern Alaska in the community of Ambler, Jones grew up surrounded by individuals who lived off the land and created tools from the landscape surrounding them that they used in everyday life. Her father fished commercially and her family lived a subsistence lifestyle, hunting and gathering, traveling on land by dog team and up and down river by boat.
“There were no stores nearby to get things, so if you needed something, you had to make it, or get it from someone making it,” she said.
Jones’ school offered Native art instruction from village elders and she learned to make traditional birch bark folded baskets from spruce root and willow that served as waterproof vessels used to harvest berries and cook in.
“I learned as a kid that if you needed something, you could make it and that it should be functional and beautiful too, and that has stuck with me,” she said.
When she was 12 years old, her family moved to the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California — from the cold that could kill you to the heat that could kill you, from a dog team to a horse ranch. With no materials available to make birch baskets, she learned to knit.
When she was 17 years old, Jones returned to Alaska on her own, working summers in Denali National Park for six seasons, returning to California for part of the year, and traveling. She studied Fire Science at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and worked as a volunteer firefighter, but realized that it was not a field she saw herself making a career in since she preferred to work on improving people’s health and well-being prior to emergencies. She shifted gears to studying ceramics, metal work and sculpture, eventually getting her Bachelor of Fine Arts.
Jones returned to California, worked in organic farming, continued knitting, took up sailing, and met her now-husband, ceramicist Dave Kaufmann. Eight years ago, the couple moved to Homer where they parent two young children and work out of their home studio, a large shop they built.
Today, Jones teaches the occasional spoon-carving class, but more so, traditional broom making. In January, she taught a broom-making workshop in Anchorage and at Grace Ridge Brewing in Homer. Her Brooms & Brews workshops fill quickly, including her upcoming one at Grace Ridge Brewing later this month, which now has a waiting list.
Jones is excited to witness what she considers to be a renaissance of makers and handcrafted items and believes that everyone could be making things with their own hands. She believes that within each of us is an innate drive, a powerful urge to have handmade items and to make things ourselves.
“Making or coming across items made by hand helps us to feel connected to others,” Jones shared. “We are drawn to handmade objects because they fill the soul, knowing that another human has made it, that we can see how they made it, even if we don’t understand the process, and often, we can watch how they made it. Making things with your own hands is incredibly rewarding, fulfilling and relaxing. It’s one of the reasons I love to teach — it’s exciting to watch people discover what they can make.”
Jones follows the traditional Appalachian style of broom making, modeled after a turkey wing or tail. While real bird wings are the original tool used for sweeping and are still used in Arctic Alaska, her hand brooms are made from broomcorn and nylon, cotton or bamboo twine and are intended to be both beautiful and practical.
“I wish for all of my things to be used heavily by people because I believe that in the activity, the action of reaching for a beautiful tool to use, you think about the person who made it, the fact that humans make things, and that there’s a uniqueness and beauty that makes it pleasant to use, cook and work with,” she said. “I have a spoon from a carver in Germany that I love to use. In a way, it’s like visiting with that person for a little bit, and when I use it, I feel like I am part of a large community of makers around the world.”
In addition to spoons and brooms, Jones loves to cook and teaches fermentation classes. She and Kaufman sell their wares locally and in Anchorage at craft fairs and farmers markets, as well as through their individual Instagram pages.
Eager to engage with a community of craftspeople, Jones welcomes students who have taken her classes to join her in her studio. In fact, one of Jones’ goals is to create a space for makers to gather to share ideas, tools, materials, and skills.
“I can offer these two areas of expertise to people and for me, it’s valuable and fun to have a group of people pursing and working in these fields,” she said. “I would love to see more people in Homer carving spoons and making brooms as a hobby and as a business and I’d love to engage with people who are as passionate about making items as I am.”
Anyone interested in connecting with Jones can follow her Instagram page, Willow Q. Jones or reach out through email, firstname.lastname@example.org.