Great Bear Woodworks focuses on functional art.
Working in their wood shop, Zach Deverman and Rachael Riggle create a variety of wooden wares, but primarily focus on wooden spoons and spatulas.
“We blend style and function,” says Deverman. “We see it as art, but also as a hybrid with something you can use.”
Deverman and Riggle are the owners, designers and woodworkers behind Great Bear. The couple began the business out of their Whitefish home earlier this year and since have been expanding to selling their handcrafted wood work at farmers markets and festivals around Montana. In addition to several types of wooden cooking utensils, they create cutting boards, bowls, earrings and custom furniture.
Each piece they make is custom and one-of-a-kind. They seek out unique hardwoods with designs that can be brought to life through their work by accenting what is usually considered imperfections — variations in the grains, knots or marks left by insects. They often use stones for inlay work, including malachite, turquoise, and obsidian.
“I’m obsessed with the grain patterns,” Riggle says. “Every piece is original. Each person is drawn to a certain pattern because it speaks to them.”
“I really enjoy working with wood because I’m not being told what to do,” she adds. “There is freedom of creativity in it.”
All of their utensils are created to be aesthetically pleasing, but also ergonomic and truly functional in the kitchen. Both love to cook and say their everyday lives inspire them to make beautiful tools even more useful.
One of their utensils is the goat hoof, a sort of spatula and spoon hybrid, that makes it easy to do multiple tasks with one utensil. Deverman says it’s perfect for chopping up ground meat while cooking because it’s sturdy and allows you to work at an angle, but it also has enough of a curve to make it easy to spoon up the food once it’s cooked.
There’s also the trout with a long curved handle, and the gourd, which is shaped like its namesake, and French press coffee spoon, designed to scoop up coffee but with a flat end on the handle so it can scrape out the used coffee ground. There’s also the backcountry spoon, which is designed to be light, multi-purposed in cooking, but could also be used as a splint.
The spoons are carved and sanded from hard wood, then finished with oil and wax to protect and seal the wood.
Deverman and Riggle are often taking a look at standard cooking tools and asking what can be done to make them better. They’re always seeking input from the customers, but they’ll also tell you their favorites.
“I use the goat hoof every day when I’m cooking,” Riggle said. “I don’t have to feel bad about suggesting it to customers because I can honestly say I use that every day.”
The couple also handcrafts wooden spoons for East Glacier’s Spiral Spoon, which is where they both learned the trade of woodworking. He also spent time working for the Glacier Park Boat Company assisting with the restoration of the historic wooden boats that operate in Glacier National Park.
Working with the owners of the Spiral Spoon gave them the fundamental knowledge for crafting wooden spoons. Working on the historic wooden boats, Deverman says showing off his collection of historic hand planners, taught him skills that he’s applied to other areas of wood working.
“A boat is an illusion — it’s a curved piece of wood that’s made to look straight,” he said. “That taught me to understand and make adaptation. It really became a hobby to make old things new or make them continue on.”
Recently, Deverman began creating earrings also made of wood and many that include stone inlay similar to the spoons.
They’ll take on projects that call for restoration and re-creation — a customer brought them a picture of their grandfather’s wooden spoon and they created a replica and another asked for their 50-year-old cutting board to be restored.
“It’s breathing new life into something old,” Deverman said. “It’s taking something that’s old and sitting, and making it beautiful again.”
Great Bear Woodworks is the featured artist for the month of October at the Purple Pomegranate on Central Avenue.
For more information, visit https://www.etsy.com/shop/GreatBearwoodcraft.