The Workbench

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

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.

 

 

What is “Modern” Now?

I’ve been mulling over something I read on Huffington Post last month, an op-ed piece by House Beautiful editor Stephen Drucker in the wake of Metropolitan Home’s closing announcement. He makes the point that the battle over “traditional” style vs. “hip” trends is getting tired, and that design now should “not just [be] the lone-chair-in-an-empty-room stories in the T section of The New York Times; it’s about the dynamic, original thinking going on across the working design community every day.” I thought I’d flesh my thoughts on the issue: where are we going in “modern” design?

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The use of the word “modern” can become a bit of a tricky one, especially when referring to art and design. It has academic and colloquial definitions that are not necessarily consistent with each other. However, Drucker’s use of “modern” and his evaluations of the direction of design I think are quite apt.

There seems to be a conflicting cycle of what is “hip” becoming mainstream, as Druker speaks out against. By becoming mainstream, I argue, it intrinsically is no longer hip. I think this is a valid point to be examined, especially by those in the “modern” and “cutting edge” scene. How much responsibility does the media in this world have to present what is truly new and may be the “biggest geek” versus what is being supported and selling at the current time?

We also live in a world where so many styles have come and passed that it is almost impossible to come up with something that is truly new and does not beg, borrow, or steal from its predecessors. For this reason, I agree wholeheartedly with Drucker that there exists “modern” thinking in some many different areas that are all too often overlooked because they don’t fit the assumed aesthetic. As we are finding with the current “green” movement, it is sometimes the process and approach that are “modern,” not necessarily the end product.

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I am saddened to see Met Home go under, and I do not wish that fate on any publication. I hope that out of these difficulties positives will come for those who are still running. I hope the constant search for what will be the new “modern” is revitalized and is color blind to our previous constructs and categories.

*All images from my recent show at Rebekah Jacob Gallery in Charleston. Images courtesy Kevin Hoth.