Meet the Maker - Allen Berry
Hey Allen, add me to your list please!!!!! If you have purchased a spindle from Allen Berry, you know exactly what this means. Allen hand carves support and drop spindles with custom designs that are limitless, all you need to do is think it up and ask him. He has no website, no online shop, and no help - he runs his business solely from his Instagram account. If you want a spindle, you simply message him on Instagram and ask to be added to the list, which, at the moment, is 2 months out. I can honestly tell all you lovely spinners, it is definitely worth the wait.
Like most makers I have had the pleasure of getting to know behind the scenes, Allen is shy. He doesn't post much about himself, rather fills his feed with his magical spindles and spoons and positive energy.
Allen, thank you so much for taking the time and allowing all of my fiber friends this glimpse into your world of wood carving. We all know you are a spindle artist. What did you do before you started making spindles for us spinners?
Before I moved to Bellingham in 2010 I was a specialized gardener and horticulturist in Las Vegas where I lived for most of my life. I also had a sign shop for about 10 years where I made hand painted signs.
What drew you to spinning and spindle making?
My sister came home from a fuzz festival with a Turkish spindle and asked if I could make more of them. Along the way ‘they’ told me that I should learn to spin if I’m gonna make spindles. I thought why? Most spindle makers don’t spin, but they were right. I make better spindles because I’m a spinner too.
What is your favorite thing about being a maker/artist?
I love the tools. Especially the antique hand tools, the saws and planes and the knives. I love knives, pocket knives. And the materials, paper and pencils and wood, bone, ivory and horn. But I also love the transformation. Turning materials that I’ve gathered from nature into functional, usable items like spindles and spoons and various other goodies. I love the simplicity of making usable items from natural materials using my hands and basic hand tools. Especially the antique tools. The concept that a tool made 100 years ago still works as good as the day it was made is very inspiring to making fiber tools that may still be in use 100 years from now.
What is the most challenging thing about being a maker/artist?
The most challenging thing about being an artist is the time limitation. There just isn’t enough time in a normal life to do all the different things I’d like to do or to try all the ideas that I have.
Please tell all the single ladies, are you spoken for?
I’m single and have been for about ten years. Not necessarily by choice but I just haven’t met the right lady. Being an introvert doesn’t make it any easier. (Single ladies, he is single!!!)
Do you have a big family? Kids? Grandkids?
I have a small family. Two children, in their 30's but no grandkids yet. I have two siblings that I live next door to. It’s a small group but very close.
What are your hobbies outside of your art?
I think spinning is really the only other hobby I have. Everything else revolves around art. I’d like to dabble a little more in stained glass mosaic but there’s that time thing.
Where do you find your inspiration?
My inspiration. Hmmmm. Art is the exploration of the artist. That’s my primary inspiration. Beyond that I love women and making spindles for them is a joy. The ideas that they send to me challenge me and inspire me to push my abilities far more than I ever would on my own. And their responses to what I’ve made are so positive and encouraging that I couldn’t possibly stop.
Your spindles are mostly custom, what has been your weirdest request to date? Your favorite? Any you turned down for whatever reason?
I had to turn down a couple of ideas. One was just a request for too much detail in too small a space. I don’t think I've had any really weird requests but what comes to mind is a platypus. I was thrilled because I think platypus are cool and I never dreamed anyone would ever ask for one on a spindle.
Have you traveled, and if so, have any of the destinations inspired your art?
I’m not a traveler really. I like a road trip occasionally but there isn’t any place that I can say has inspired me but I really love the scenery of the southwest. I lived in Sedona until I was 6 and have been back there and to Utah several times and that scenery is really spectacular. I do love the desert but I love living in the northwest now.
Is there somewhere you have not been that is on your bucket list?
I don’t really have a bucket list. Home is my favorite place to be. Being creative and carving wood. I like to go camping in the summer but I carve when I’m there too.
What book is on your nightstand right now?
I have taken a break lately from a lifetime of reading but the next book is ‘Selections from the writings of Frederick Douglas.’ I have a lot of books on woodworking and native arts and crafts and those books get worn out.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what songs would we hear coming from your studio?
Oh music, music, music!!! I listen to music all day everyday. Mostly classical and a little jazz but I was a teen in the 70s so I gotta have some rock & roll sometimes and once in a while I really need some serious shredded guitar.
Give us an idea of what your workday is like.
A typical workday is getting up when I wake up, 7 or 8 o’clock. Coffee, carving and checking my messages. Run errands midday and more carving. A good meal in the afternoon and a nap, watch the news and then back to carving until 9, 10, 11, 12, 1 o’clock or whenever I’m tired. Occasionally I hafta take trip out to the forest to get more wood for spindles.
What does your logo mean?
The logo simply means handmade. I’ve designed a lot of logos in my time and I wanted something simple that I could put on everything easily. Many carvers make a design from their initials and I want to be a little different. It’s the left hand because I held it up as a model to draw it originally and I draw with my right hand. If that makes any sense at all. I can’t draw with my right hand if I’m holding it up to look at it.
You are very passionate about the current climate of our country and equality for minorities, regardless of what group they belong to. Where does this passion stem from?
That’s a good question. I think there are people who have felt a lot of pain and don’t want anyone to ever have to feel that way. I think I’m one of those people. Nobody should be oppressed, we all deserve to try to be happy and live our lives as we want to live them without the judgement of others holding us back. I get a tremendous amount of joy from seeing other people living happy fulfilled lives, and I don’t get any reward at all in other people’s suffering.
How much time does it take you from starting the concept/draft of a spindle to finishing one?
It takes several hours to complete a spindle. I don’t know exactly how long because I don’t work on one spindle from start to finish without stopping. I have to take breaks and work on easier items in between the custom designs. They require greater focus because if I’m tired or distracted and slip I could ruin the whole thing and hafta start over. I can make two or three spindles of different types in a day.
You are also a spinner. What is your favorite spindle? We all want to know what design you have chosen for yourself.
I like support spindles and low whorl the best. I use top whorl for plying and for well prepared fiber that will draft easily and smoothly. I use the support spindles more as a low whorl so I can draft with two hands because they’re super fast and I use a low whorl if I want something that’s spins slower and/or for a longer time. I think those two types allow for the most relaxed and meditative spinning.
You run your entire business from your Instagram page and messenger. How do you keep it running so smoothly?
Instagram makes it easy because everything is in one place. My showroom, a place for comments and suggestions and I’m readily available almost 20 hours a day through the messages for taking orders and corresponding with my clients about their orders. I also have a little book that I write orders in because I don’t trust electronics completely. I work by myself and I fill each request in the order it has arrived so I don’t have to wonder which job to work on next. That’s probably the biggest help in keeping my sanity, without the list I would always wonder if I should be working on something else more important.
Allen, again thank you so much for opening up to us all and sharing a little about yourself. We look forward to seeing more of your fiber friends visions take form in your magical carving.
If you would like to order a spindle from Allen, you simply need to find him on Instagram at @allenrberry and send him a direct message asking to be added to his list.