The heft and feel of a well-worn handle,
The sight of shavings that curl from a blade;
The logs in the wood pile, the sentiment of huge beams in an old-fashioned house;
The smell of fresh cut timber and the pungent fragrance of burning leaves;
The crackle of kindling and the hiss of burning logs.
Abundant to all the needs of man, how poor the world would be
Without wood.

Everard Hinrichs, quoted by Eric Sloane in A Reverence for Wood


Friday, September 2, 2011

Great Designs in Wood (16)

Returning from a meeting in the Penn State Department of Architecture, I noticed this table in the main entrance hall. It caught my eye because I thought I saw Southern Pine, the wood dearest to my East Texas heart.
Shur 'nuff, it was southern yellow pine, in a creation that I had never seen the likes of back in my East Texas days. I have seen plenty of pine tables, mostly built with pine boards picnic-table style. But this one shows what a little creativity brings out in even the most common of our woods.
Moving closer to inspect, it became apparent that the designer had utilized the beautiful asymmetrical growth rings that always fascinated me in my youth. These rings speak so many things to us of the life of the tree...its age, its growth rate, its bouts with diseases and drought...generally, its good years and bad. And this designer had captured the living story of these trees in the table top itself.
The center part of the table is simply cut-off ends of pine two-by-fours, notched together with smaller blocks of the same. The smaller notches are stained darker than the square ends, which are in turn stained darker than the table edge boards. All covered in a brilliant varnish to seal in the effect of a high-end "artsy" hall table.
Its really amazing how the rings, when patterned together next to rings of the next piece, create a sort of biological fingerprint of a forest. The effect is one of nature "imitating" art.
And who is the artist that created this silk out of a sows ear? The best I could find out was that it was a "first-year" project of one the architecture students a couple of years ago. For a first-year project, it shows an amazing sensitivity to the inherent beauty in wood. We can only hope that the student continues to build on his or her appreciation of the simple things in life...there's a whole world of people out there longing to return to them.
And speaking of architecture students, I have two of them taking credit this semester for "special projects" that will require them to design and build a piece of wood furniture each. I'll be introducing them to you and following their progress in future blog postings.

On this Labor Day weekend, take time to admire a fine piece of wood and the craftsmanship we still have in us.

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