Lanesboro resident and local wooden spoonmaker Frank Wright will be ending 21 years of craftsmanship at his shop on Dec. 5 at 8:52 p.m., his 65th birthday. He will continue to pursue his hobbies of gardening and growing rhubarb and corn. Here, Wright shows off the varieties of corn he has and the cornmeal he has ground the kernels into.  ANTON ADAMEK/REPUBLICAN-LEADER
Lanesboro resident and local wooden spoonmaker Frank Wright will be ending 21 years of craftsmanship at his shop on Dec. 5 at 8:52 p.m., his 65th birthday. He will continue to pursue his hobbies of gardening and growing rhubarb and corn. Here, Wright shows off the varieties of corn he has and the cornmeal he has ground the kernels into. ANTON ADAMEK/REPUBLICAN-LEADER
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The dust has been settling for almost 19 years in Frank Wright's shop on Coffee Street. The Lanesboro resident and craftsman has made wooden spoons for 21 years and in just a week, he will be hanging up his tools for good at closing time. Wright will celebrate turning 65 on Thursday, Dec. 5, by closing his shop on the exact moment he was born: 8:52 p.m.

"I'll turn the lights off and let the dust settle," he said.

He's not looking for fanfare. According to Wright, he has been celebrating his retirement for the past six months.

"I'm coming in for a soft landing," he joked. "A couple friends will be here. I'll go over to the Legion and have a couple beers."

The chapter concerning spoonmaking has been a significant one in Wright's life. He's lost count of how many wooden utensils he has made.

"Forty-thousand?" he wondered aloud.

No matter the number, it's the skill he has obtained which is memorable.

"I've gotten good at it," he admitted, explaining he can take any piece of wood, hold it for little while and know exactly what to do with it to create another spoon.

Wright continued, "You get so good at it, your time is free to enjoy the nuances about the process. It becomes hardwired."

Of course, Wright noted, "You have to make sure you don't cut your fingers off."

What remains after another spoon or pair of chopsticks are finished is a greater depth of relationship with the craft itself.

Wright got into spoonmaking because he felt like it was a craft that could speak to the most people. "I know there are people around the world using these utensils," he said, pointing over to a wall in his shop covered with letters and notes from past customers.

"It's a small thing, but we eat three times a day," he stated. "Being a part of that is nice."

He may be stopping his sale of spoons, but Wright will continue to be involved in the food side of things. Wright's interest in food mixes both local and foreign cuisine. At the heart of his appreciation for food is a love of growing it himself.

As an avid gardener of almost 40 years, Wright and his wife, Peggy Hanson, own a roughly four-acre plot of land along the Root River Bike Trail east of Lanesboro. Most of it is uncultivated with fruit trees planted throughout. In the one-acre of planted gardens, there are all sorts of experiments.

Wright moved to Lanesboro in 1994. Two years prior, he had visited the Central American country of Belize. There, while on the lookout for tapirs, he discovered corn stalks six feet tall. A friend was the farmer who had grown the plants, so Wright was able to bring a couple ears back to his home in Excelsior, Minn. Because the plants received more sunlight, the corn stalks grew to almost 17 feet tall. Wright has pictures to prove it.

Since that time, Wright has experimented with growing over a dozen different varieties of corn. He doesn't plant every year, and when he does, it's about a tenth of an acre. All the corn is harvested and used to make a number of dishes, including Wright's favorite: polenta.

Full to the brim with knowledge about corn, Wright can easily launch into explaining the difference between dent and flint corns and which can make the best polenta, or corn mush.

Wright grinds his own corn and uses a combination of grinding and mesh separators to make corn flour. When his wife, Peggy, ran a bed and breakfast out of their home a few years ago, visitors would wake up to find Wright's corn mush waiting to be eaten.

"It looked like prison food," laughed Wright, talking about the Earth Tones Dent corn that he had planted. Though the kernels had a purple color prior to grinding and cooking, the result would be an ugly gray hue.

"It tasted good, but you had to wear sunglasses," said Wright.

He swapped out that variety for Nothstine Dent corn, which came from northern Michigan.

Wright has grown corn from Vermont, Maine and the local area. He acquires seed catalogues and spends time researching the varieties he is considering purchasing for the next year. He grows sweet corn sometimes, but has cut back since the "Axis of Evil" in raccoons, deer and woodchucks wreak havoc whenever he plants it.

Next year, Wright wants to try Floriani Red Flint, which has come from Italy. Actually, according to Wright, "all the corn in Italy originated in North America."

Wright will couple his love of corn with his obsession surrounding rhubarb. Considering himself a "rhubarb evangelist," Wright has 100 rhubarb plants in production and 352 as starters. He has also been experimenting in the development of rhubarb juice.

Noting there isn't really a market for rhubarb juice yet, Wright said it has become a big hit around town, especially during Rhubarb Fest. The apparent tartness is mixed in with just enough sweetness. The drink contains only about two to five percent sugar.

Wright is also a mushroom hunter who has his own secret locations where he collects morels. Thinking about mushroom hunting causes him to remember the time when he visited the Piedmont region in Italy. There he was introduced to hunting for the rare and expensive black truffles. The hunting, he shared, was so secretive that hunters would buy dogs that could sniff the mushrooms out and then hunt during the light of the full moon.

Wright doesn't get that serious, but his enjoyment of gathering and growing is as strong as anybody's in the area. "The goal is to garden until I fall and drop dead in the garden while sipping rhubarb juice," he said.

Just as he shared his woodworking talent with many through the spoons he made, Wright hopes to continue to share his love of food with others. "It makes meals richer when you know where the food came from and it's not hard to find people who enjoy that with you," he said.

"We haven't even gotten into black walnuts," he concluded with a smile. But, that's another story.