What’s the biggest mistake when dating burl bowls? "To attribute the more primitive, rough-hewn pieces to Native Americans," says burl dealer Steven Scott Powers, author of North American Burl Treen (burlsnuff.com). "American Indians were highly skilled woodworkers, and their bowls are well-proportioned and more refined than those of European colonists," says Powers, who has examined hundreds of early ladles and bowls. "European settlers in America didn’t have a tradition of hewing their own burl bowls. They didn’t know how to work with burl."
In Europe, burl was usually reserved for decorative veneer and then only for the finest furniture. To see for yourself, Powers suggests a visit to Winterthur (winterthur.com), where Henry Francis du Pont’s burl bowls are currently displayed in the house museum’s courtyard. But the mother lode resides at Old Sturbridge Village, where an appointment is necessary to view the burl. Or view the collection online (osv.org).