Horn and antlers craftsman believes the tradition still has a future

A craftsman who was one of the last few people in Britain to carve horn and antlers for a living believes that the 5th century tradition still has a future.

John Lacey, 64, has been carving implements such as spoons, knife handles and pipes for almost 40 years.

He learned his skills from his father-in-law Cameron Thomson (95), who started a workshop in Lawers, Perth and Kinross in 1959.

Dad of two John has been working there for 36 years and accidentally fell for it.

Horn carving is listed as Endangered by the Heritage Crafts Association, but John believes that antlers and horns are natural resources that must be used.

The horn or antlers are made by cutting, heating, and shaping before sanding and then polishing – and it can take John just 90 minutes to make a spoon.

John said, “I am one of the few horn carvers who stayed in Scotland.

“But there are people who try and there is still an interest in it.

“I hope people get on with the craft and I believe it will always be here because the materials will be.”

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“There is a lot of antlers here and they fall off every year.

“But you never know what’s around the corner.”

Horn carving is believed to date back to the fifth century and by the Middle Ages, horn carving workshops were common across Britain.

However, a shortage of raw materials such as cattle and ram’s horn due to breeding and import problems as well as a lack of recruitment and skilled workers has hampered the craft.

The introduction of cheaper materials like plastic also made horn carving less popular, and now carvers are making more luxury items.

Grandfather of three John said, “It takes a while.

“You have to cut things manually.

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“It probably takes half an hour to make a spoon.

“The pipes and spoons are popular, but the walking sticks and shepherds’ sticks are not as popular as they used to be.

“I’ve been doing this for almost 40 years.

“When I got married, I got into it.

“It was my father-in-law who did it before.

“We work with horn and antler and make spoons, pipes and knife handles.”

John has no plans to retire anytime soon and is considering hiring an apprentice to give the craft a boost.

He added, “There’s nobody else here – I’m just a one-man band.

“I’m not training anyone right now, but maybe in the future.

“I don’t think I’ll be retiring anytime soon.”


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