Stepping inside the Spiral Spoon is like entering another dimension.
Its warm wooden walls, decorated with old-time signs and slogans, feel familiar even upon first meeting. The shop’s graduated expansion is evident in the flooring, which transitions from old street signs in the original shopfront to traditional boards in the belly of the store. Each room is partitioned into nooks and crannies that are filled with hand-carved wooden spoons. The Spiral feels like part antique haven, part workshop, with a little Potter-esque flair added for good measure.
It’s slightly overwhelming, but most assuredly inspiring. Who knew a spoon could take on so many forms?
There are spoons for spreading, scooping and stirring.
There are massive purple spoons, spoons inlayed with precious metals, and spoons with intricately carved bear handles.
There are left-handed and right-handed and doesn’t-matter-which-handed spoons.
There are spoons made from a rainbow of woods — from lush ebony to rich cherry and the fickle-to-carve purple heart.
And no two are exactly alike.
That’s the beauty of it, according to proprietor Jo Hodges-Wagner, who has run East Glacier Park’s spoon shop for the last 20 years.
“We always say that there are no mistakes, only new designs,” she said with an easy smile.
Hodges-Wagner fell into the wooden spoon business by happy accident.
She and her late husband, Charley, lived on the Hopi Reservation in Northeast Arizona before moving to Montana. There wasn’t much going on in that high country desert, so Hodges-Wagner decided to find herself a hobby.
“I started teaching myself how to carve hiking sticks and then realized that not everybody needed or wanted a hiking stick,” she said.
She and a group of “arsty-craftsy” friends came across a packet of spoons one day and decided to make them into custom creations. Hodges-Wagner carved her familiar spiral into the handle, and figured she might as well carve the bowl, too.
So began a long love affair with woodworking — and spoons.
“I started out with a knife and a piece of bass wood in the kitchen making a mess and cutting myself and getting blood all over the floor, which is nothing new to wood carvers,” Hodges-Wagner recalled.
Although she loved her spoons, her first love was Charley.
On those days when she’d make a bloody mess in the throws of creativity, he’d be right beside her, encouraging her to keep at it.
She sold her first spoon at an art show held at the Izaak Walton Inn in Essex, which she attended only at the behest of friend Linda Chase.
“Oh, it’s not just a hobby anymore,” Charley told her after the show.
So she taught him how to make spoons, too, and he, in turn, taught everyone who came after.
“In the winter, I think everybody in town knows that I’m not going to let you starve,” she said. “If you want to, you can come over and learn to make spoons at your own time. We’ve taught a lot of people to make spoons. A lot of people.”
She’s not quite sure how long it takes to make a single spoon and frankly, she’d rather not know. There are many stages to the process, from creating the initial design, to carving, plus a series of soaks and many layers of sanding with increasingly finer grains.
When asked what keeps her carving after all these years, Hodges-Wagner can’t name just one aspect. She loves coming up with new designs — some of which come to her in dreams — and even appreciates the monotony of carving them. Frequently, she’ll wile away those hours in the company of an audio book.
“I read the Harry Potters while I was carving. That’s what started the wands over here,” she said, gesturing to a purple case in the rear of the shop. “The kids in town pretty much bullied me into making the wands.”
In addition to purveying an array of spoons, and a small collection of wands, Hodges-Wagner also boasts her own collection displayed, naturally, on the ceiling. There are easily more than 100 wooden spoons sourced from all over the world, including a few that were used as movie props in shows and films such as “Xena: Warrior Princess” and “Nacho Libre.”
Adding to the shop’s eccentricity is a behemoth spoon standing watch in the front yard.
Hodges-Wagner wanted to find a purpose for all the sawdust produced as byproduct of the spoon-crafting process, so she built a giant one out of papier-mâché, sawdust mixture. As a final flourish, she painted it purple.
“There’s no point in having a 14-foot spoon in your yard if it’s not purple,” she quipped.
And there’s no way she could have a 14-foot purple spoon without giving it a name.
“The paint color that I chose is aubergine and we got to talking about who on earth is going to use the word aubergine?” she said.
Martha Stewart seemed a fitting choice and hence, the spoon was dubbed Big Martha in her honor.
Big Martha, which was built in 2005, has been stolen once, which Hodges-Wagner said, “had to be done” — but was eventually returned.
Hodges-Wagner is good-humored about the whole ordeal. She’s easy-going, which is perhaps the real secret behind her success, workmanship aside.
“It doesn’t take long for them to warm up and become friends,” Hodges-Wagner said of her customers. “You wouldn’t believe how many people end up hugging you.”
She remembers many of them — the man who bought a silver-inlaid ebony spoon as an engagement gift. The woman with a brain tumor who’s due for surgery this month, she noted. The gentlemen looking for a special spoon to spread his wife’s ashes.
Hodges-Wagner could go on and on.
People come in and buy spoons, but they leave her with more than payment, they leave her with stories.
“There’s all kinds of reasons people buy spoons,” Hodges-Wagner said.
And all kinds of people who make them. The Spiral Spoon family also includes her cousin Carlton Hodges, along with Rachael and Zach Deverman, who Hodges-Wagner hope will one day take over the business.
Rachael was among Charley’s many pupils before his passing in 2018.
“Charley was a tough critic, he would tell you straight forward,” Rachael said. “I loved this about him, because if you didn’t do it good, he’d tell you. He wouldn’t sugarcoat anything. But once you got his approval, oh my gosh, it was the best thing in the world.”
Although Charley isn’t around in the physical sense, his presence is steeped into the very walls of the Spiral Spoon.
He gazes out over the shop from a photograph. One of his many cowboy hats hangs next to a doorway.
His spirit even makes an appearance now and then, Hodges-Wagner said, a sign to her that at least part of him is still there.
“If you’re smoking, dammit, quit,” she said, her light demeanor turning serious. “He had neuroendocrine carcinoma and it’s caused by smoking. It’s one of the fastest of the cancers. By the time we found it, he was already riddled with tumors. He was diagnosed on the 27th of September and he was dead on October 17.”
It’s been eight months since his passing, but Charley left behind a legacy. It’s in the craftsmen who follow him and in the wooden works of art themselves.
Each one tells a story and no two are ever the same.
Reporter Mackenzie Reiss can be reached at (406) 758-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.