Branching out in Homer: Bikes, mushrooms, spoons just the beginning

Posted: Tuesday, March 22, 2011

HOMER -- Riding around town on his tandem bicycle with a bucket of spoons, Homer's Spoon Guy has become a minor celebrity. In his wool cap, sweater and pants, Michael Henri Glasgow can be seen at his booth at the summer Farmers' Market or sometimes riding in parades. Where some carry a knife, Glasgow's sheath on his belt has a couple of spoons handy. If you need finely crafted, whimsical spoons that are works of art, Glasgow's your guy.

Although a sign on his Kachemak Drive cabin says "the Spoon Guy" and his spoons are part of his character, there's more to the man. For example, Glasgow's an accomplished mycologist with 24 years experience who can identify 22 different kinds of Alaska mushrooms. This month, Glasgow showed off another side of his art with two pieces in the Emerging Artists exhibit at the Homer Council on the Arts. Using wood he calls "passively collected," Glasgow searches for sculptures only he can see hidden in exotic wood.

"You look at it -- my God, there's a whole being in there," he said of his creative process, like his work, "Bones (Pop)," carved from a manzanita burl.

Glasgow, 57, was born in Alaska before statehood in Fairbanks. The son of bush pilot and hunting guide Bud Glasgow, Michael Glasgow later moved to Anchorage. Wanting to graduate early from West High School, he took his GED and aced the test. His dad wanted him to follow in his footstep as a hunting guide, but on a hunting trip at age 16, Glasgow told his dad he quit.

"I didn't like the hunting for money," he said.

At 19 in the early 1970s, Glasgow got his first glimpse of Homer -- one that would lure him back decades later. His dad told him there was a job for a police officer in Homer and to go down from Anchorage and apply. Even though he had short hair, when he pulled up at the cop shop in his VW van, the chief took one look at him and said, "We don't want you. You're not our kind." The view of Kachemak Bay stuck with him, though.

After high school, Glasgow worked in construction and then on the Alaska Pipeline for two years during its construction. He developed rheumatoid arthritis from the work and wound up in a wheelchair. Some doctors told him to file for disability and insurance and accept his lot. In Oregon, he did physical therapy at the ND Clinic. His appointments were for twice a week. He went six days a week and kept exercising and exercising.

"It seemed to work," Glasgow said. "I'm in their books as a cure for arthritis."

After 11 months of therapy, Glasgow got out of the chair. His first purchase: a hang glider. He got it after thinking to himself, "What are you going to do if you get out of this wheelchair?"

There's the other part of Glasgow: he's a long-distance bicyclist, sort of like Lance Armstrong on a tandem. With spoons.

"I realized I had to stay physically fit," he said of why he took up bicycling.

At an age when many men have beer bellies and love handles, Glasgow said he's 10 pounds lighter than his high school weight -- and he was pretty fit back then.

"It's the bike thing," he said.

Six times Glasgow has ridden his bike from Bellingham, Wash., down the California coast and over to Tucson, Ariz. That's how he would get to gem-and-mineral shows in Quartzite and Tucson. Round trip each time he estimated that's 7,000 miles -- 42,000 miles across the west on a tandem bicycle.

Another long trip led Glasgow to Homer in 1999. After biking the east coast of Australia, he decided he wanted to go back to that beautiful place he'd seen as a young man. Glasgow travels with his tools and wood blanks to carve spoons. He liked the east coast of Australia because it's one long stretch of beach towns. He soon found many locals had self-pay food stands and he could resupply easily.

Glasgow got into carving spoons while running a traveling espresso stand. In an old school bus, he'd go to Grateful Dead shows across the western U.S. Deadhead vendors try to get into the front rows of stadium lots, the prime retail space. Getting into the front row took a little stealth and planning. One wild night he made $3,050 selling single espresso shots at $1 -- bring your own cup.

While running his espresso stand he started making spoons. Eventually his spoon business took off. He's been at it 24 years. Glasgow has refined his sales pitch to what he calls the sandpaper method -- giving people a little grit with his sales talk. Selling is as much an art as spoon making. He brags that he's the most expensive spoon salesman in the west, with his top of the line spoon selling for $1,100. He has a $505 spoon he puts in his display, with an intricate carving at the end. That's the one people often grab from his bucket. It's not the one people buy, though, but it starts the conversation.

That's his trick. If people want to look, fine, but keep your kids and dogs away. Once someone picks up a spoon, the art of his sale begins. Glasgow said if he's a little bit aloof it draws in customers. He's had people ask the price of a spoon and he'll say, "$55, but for you it's $35," and they'll pay $60 or more. His least-expensive spoon is $20.

Glasgow has six sons and a daughter, all grown and living in Alaska and Oregon. One time his ex-wife said, "Why don't you get a job?"

"I said, 'I have seven jobs. I'm not making very much. Someday I will,'" Glasgow said.

When he started in the spoon business, Glasgow calculated he made about $2 an hour. Now he figures he can make up to $40 an hour. He's constantly trying to push the concept of spoons, like a pair of big, mean looking dueling spoons should you want to defend your honor. That's really what he's selling: the art and soul Glasgow puts into his art and craft.

But be careful. If you pick up one of his spoons, like a winter king salmon fisherman setting the hook, he might just reel you in.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.



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