Jason Headlee

Jason started by winning a few ribbons for woodcarving and now partners with the guys over at Fontenelle.

Describe who you were as a kid. I grew up in Coon Rapids Iowa.  I loved art.  Drawing, painting and even a little bit of woodcarving were my thing.  I came from a family who hunted and fished so I was always sketching what I saw out in the field.  Really I wanted to be a wildlife artist.  That was my goal and all I wanted to be.

Walk us through your journey to starting your own thing. I got into woodcarving mostly a few duck decoys then heavily into relief carving.  I started entering in the Iowa State Fair where a few ribbons were won for my entries.  We had a Thanksgiving potluck at work which one of our serving spoons from home was lost.   My wife said we needed to purchase another one but I decided to make one from a chunk of mulberry I had stashed.  It was an ok design but I knew I could do better.  I started working on my style and aesthetic which is still an ongoing process for me.

What's keeping you busy? I’m gearing up for Market Day on May 20th and I’m pretty close to being done with stock for the show.  I just finished up a batch of coffee scoops for Fontenelle Supply Co. and have a couple of orders for coffee scoops. 

"Stay focused on what I was good at."

Why coffee scoops? Walk us through your process of making one of these.  I remember as a kid that a can of Foldgers coffee came with a free plastic scoop to measure out your coffee.  I decided to do my take on it only in wood.  

I have been doing 2 sizes. 1 Tablespoon and 2 Tablespoon.  When making these I use a circle template or compass to draw the circle on the wood.  I then draw on a handle then cut out the profile on the bandsaw.  Using a chisel I start digging out the bowl of the scoop.  When I think I am getting close to the right depth I fill the bowl of the scoop with sugar and level it off.  I weigh the sugar on a kitchen scale in grams.  1 tablespoon is 12.5 grams and 2 tablespoons is 25 grams of sugar.  I keep shaping the bowl as needed to get that weight.  A bit of sanding and work with a curved scraper finishes out that part of the scoop.  I then use rasps and a tabletop belt sander to finish the rest of the scoop.  After final sanding on the entire piece it gets finished with my homemade mineral oil beeswax finish.

Along the way, who and what helped you to keep pushing forward? There was really no one certain person that drove me to make wood kitchen utensils just people around me that liked what I was doing.  I started selling a few items.  I decided to do the spring Market Day about 4 years ago where I did very well.  That was it.  I felt like maybe I had something that I people would buy. 

Someone is starting a project for the first time, what would you want to say to them? I would say stay focused.  There are so many different types of art media that I like and would like to try it’s easy for me to get off track.  Once I had some success with what I was doing I promised myself to stay focused on what I was good at.  That doesn’t mean I don’t try some different things now and then I just keep doing what I know best.

Talk to us about one of your good days this past week. Being approached by MADE IN DSM for an interview!

And one of your not so good days. I have recently had a streak of small cracks in my utensils. I found them when I was about completed with the item.  It sucks.  It’s frustrating especially when it’s one right after another.  When things like that happen I usually have to take a step back.

If you were given any spare time this coming weekend what would you want to do and why?  I would grab my fly rod and pack to hit some ponds or small lakes. I love fly fishing. All my worries melt away when I’m fishing.

Favorite place to go fishing around the Des Moines area? I really don’t have a favorite place to fish I just look for where the hot bite might be. Big Creek, Saylorville Lake and the Des Moines River are some of the places that I like to fish.  I do have some other spots that I like to fish here in Des Moines, sorry, but I am going to keep those places to myself!

Someone just moved to the area. Where do they need to visit first?  Catch some live music at Simon Estes Amphitheater or visit the Iowa Taproom.

"A person can find plenty to do here on any day or weekend. Des Moines also retains that small town feel which I appreciate."

Who is someone you look up to and why? My grandfather. I spent a lot of time with him hunting, fishing and helping raise a few chickens. He was just an easy going guy that never seemed to worry.

What are you most proud of and why? I’m proud that people will buy what I make!  It's early mornings before my day job, evenings and weekends. No doubt that its work but its work that I have a passion for and love!

Why Des Moines? Des Moines has changed a lot since I have been here in the 1990’s. Those that think that Des Moines is a sleepy Midwest city are wrong!  A person can find plenty to do here on any day or weekend. Des Moines also retains that small town feel which I appreciate.

If you could grant the Des Moines area one wish what would it be? A few more outdoor music venues would be great.

In three months what do you hope to accomplish? No doubt I will continue selling at Fontenelle Supply Co. here in Des Moines. I feel that it’s a pretty good fit and am optimistic that things will continue to grow with them.  

I would really like to start a website to sell on the internet.  I have relied on board lumber but have started making a real push to use more local lumber from urban trees so look for more of that in the future.  I have been pretty blessed that opportunities just seem to find me so I just don’t know what might come my way.  All I can say is I’m just grateful to everyone who supports me — I couldn’t be more excited for the future!