The Workbench

A slightly sawdust filled space for the musings and ramblings of a couple of arboreal eccentrics and their faithful hounds.

Observations on a Stand of White Wood

The Saturday afternoon was surprisingly breezy with plenty of spring’s billowing white clouds. Driving down for an evening away in Savannah, just past the turn off for the picturesque Sheldon Church ruins, we came to a most striking view: petrified trees standing sentential in the low marsh grasses so ubiquitous in the South Carolina low country.  These trees struck me as something separate, monoliths raised in juxtaposition to the saline waters in these parts. Some have fallen or broken but the rest—stripped, elegant, unadorned—reinforce the enduring and hearty nature of trees. Unrelentingly white and bare, they shouldn’t still stand with our weather and the environmental conditions here, but they do.
Considering these naturally existing land art sculptures takes me back to the moment I fist saw some of Louise Bourgeois’s early Personage pieces. Bourgeois’s large retrospective traveling from London’s Tate Modern to New York’s Guggenheim was the first exhibition catalogue I ever worked on and one that helped me to define the way I consider art. Her work is challenging and produces a visceral reaction—be it one of love or repulsion—and I have felt both deeply. It was one thing to work on the book in preparation for the opening and another all together to see these now familiar pieces in situ. A two foot high raised white platform, elevated from the viewer, peppered with sticks of washed wood, each one unique and considered, still delivering all the impact they had at their first showing in New York when the artist was still a new mother and a new New Yorker.
Her totem like works are often shown, as they were in London, collected in a cluster, becoming a literal stand of reimagined wood. Early on Bourgeois was photographed with her grove of Personage on the roof of her Manhattan apartment. This image of her present among her forest feels liminal—it is her space to cross—the rest of us must be satisfied with a more distant, discrete observation point.


As we look out over the mash and into that stand of dead wood, we are able to remain a bit romantic about nature’s own sculpture. Because if we set one foot into the salty, sulfurous decomposing plant matter that is a Carolina marsh, there would be little romance left. Content with the experience of this parallel observation point, I see this dead stand of bare trunks perforated by that first viewing of ashy totemic people sculptures, and I respect the continuity.

Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees

Is there a book that you find yourself picking up again and again? Where each time you read it, the experience is simultaneously one of deep familiarity and thrilling discovery. It’s the book I’ve read aloud on road trips and pressed into my family member’s hands earnestly. The cover has been devoured by our overly vocal Siamese, and the pages are stained with drool from Addie the dog. Paragraphs are underlined with such vigor that in places it’s torn the paper. Those of you who know me as a bit of a book worm may well be surprised by the book that I have fallen for more often than any other. Or maybe I’m more predictable than I thought.

Englishman Roger Deakin didn’t pen more than a few books, each one an in depth depiction of our natural world. His second book is a bit difficult to label, and I get the sense that this sentiment would have pleased Deakin. Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees is the point where nature writing meets travel log meets memoir meets art criticism. It is the book that led me to fall in love with the job I have now. His knowledge, excitement and engagement with our world, and with trees in particular, is nothing short of invigorating. He lets his subject take him where it will, and in that freedom, he attains something new and separate. Deakin has mastered the art of interdisciplinary study.

Over the course of this unique book, the reader is transported to the mountainous slopes of Kazakhstan hunting for the apple tree’s cradle of life, into artist David Nash’s spiritual studio space, to a quiet farm in Suffolk where the annually coppiced hedges are a kind of tribute to laboring on the land.  He talks biology and ecology, sculpture and architecture, camping and sailing, picnics and fast cars. And it all works because his is a discourse in the language of trees.

A writer needs a strong passion to change things, not just to reflect or report them as they are. Mine is to promote a feeling for the importance of trees through a greater understanding of them, so that people don’t think of ‘trees’ as they mostly do now, but of each individual tree, and each kind of tree.

His is a book I hope you will appreciate as much as I have. I can promise you this: Deakin’s words will find there way back into this web log over and over, just as I find renewed inspiration for our work in his unique perspective.

 

 

Benches and Doors in Japan

Just a couple of photos our friend Mark Sloan (with the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art) sent us from his recent trip to Japan.

More Himalayan Cedars…

Just a couple pics of more Himalayan Cedar logs soon to be milled!

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Redcliffe Plantation, Himalayan Cedars

I have recently gotten between 2 and 7 logs (going to pick up more tomorrow) of Himalayan Cedar (cedrus deodara) that came down in tornadoes outside of Augusta, GA. They are beautiful trees and beautiful wood. I’m still amazed that someone had the foresight to plant these in the 30’s at this plantation! Here are a few pictures of the milling process. I’m hoping that it will all be ready to work with in about 4 months. Many thanks to Joy at Redcliffe and Jenks Farmer who alerted me to them.

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