Here at Twig & Horn, our team loves all things American made―in fact, it’s one of the primary considerations we make every time we start developing a new product. We take pride in making things in America because we can 1) assure their design, quality, and sources, 2) reduce our carbon footprint, and 3) keep American makers, both old and new, making. That is why, a few years ago when we connected with fellow Maine-based woodworker, Al Mather, we jumped at the opportunity to partner with someone who is just as passionate about making products sourced from local materials―his medium of choice being wood, of course! Ultimately, the result of this partnership was the development of two incredibly unique pieces: the Wood Yarn Bowls and the Darning Mushrooms. Recently, we talked with Al about his journey as a maker and wanted to share a small glimpse into his experience and process.
Al Mather has sourced a variety of wood types for the Twig & Horn Wood Yarn Bowls, including Spalted Maple, a type of Maple that has been allowed to begin initial stages of decay.
Before 2002, Al had little knowledge of woodturning and had dedicated his life to serving as a Baptist pastor; however, after receiving a lathe previously owned by his grandfather, he became hooked. He took it upon himself to learn initially through trial and error―preferring to work directly with his hands over studying books and manuals. Eventually, he connected with other woodturners in his community, including the Maine Woodturners, and grew in knowledge and skill from their shared experiences, ideas, and expertise. Nearly twenty years later, Al finds himself as busy as ever in turning out handmade wood products for a variety of clients, from handcrafted lobster buoys―which his wife Bobbi, an accomplished seamstress, handpaints―for Acadia National Park, to wooden biscuit cutters for New York-based Food52, to Wood Yarn Bowls and Darning Mushrooms for Twig & Horn!
Al Mather roughs out the Wood Yarn Bowls on his lathe in his workshop in China, Maine.
Finding the Best Medium
Over the years, Al has had the opportunity to work with a variety of wood types. More often than not, it’s the availability of material that dictates what he will make next. When sourcing for the Wood Yarn Bowls, he first visits his local log yard and sees what’s available―this can vary based on the time of year, which wood is in highest demand, and even ecological factors far out of his control. Ash wood, for example, is one of his preferred media, and one in particular that he notices is getting harder to find due to the emerald ash borer beetle killing trees throughout New England. Of course, some woods are simply worth the extra effort in seeking out, which is the case for the walnut and hard maple boards he sources from Portland, Maine and uses for the making of his whimsical Darning Mushrooms.
Al's whimsical Darning Mushrooms are available in two wood types: Maple and Walnut; each offers handy storage compartments for extra yarn and tapestry needles, like our Bone Tapestry Needle, inside the removable handle.
One of the many things that inspired us while talking with Al was his down-to-earth approach to woodworking and his view of it as a lifelong practice rather than something that he would eventually master. As he puts it, he is humbled every day by one aspect of the process or another, whether it’s learning a new technique, developing a new product, or simply the physical demands of working with his hands. At the age of 68, Al holds fast to a growth mindset where every day is a new opportunity to make or learn something new―to gain a different perspective on something he may have even been making for years. Recently, he was reminded, “Work is not all there is to life.” While he considers himself fortunate to have so much demand for his products, he acknowledges that he cannot sustain his practice forever; eventually, he will choose to retire. Fortunately, he looks forward to passing the torch in sharing his skills with others; in fact, he has a couple apprentices that he hopes will take up woodturning as a full-time gig in the future.