Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Integrity of materials...what about wood? There are clearly wonderful things about wood. It grows from the earth. It pulls minerals and water from the earth, processes carbon dioxide from the air to make oxygen and then grows large and strong in its relationship to gravity and light. There is no type of living thing that has engaged man's imagination more than our trees. We write poems about them.

Steel, glass, clay and stone are each materials that must be forcibly extracted from the earth before our use of them. Wood emerges abundantly on the surface of the earth, nearly as a gift. There is no material friendlier to the touch. Steel, glass and stone are either cold or hot to the touch. Wood, even in the harshest of conditions is mild to the touch. It may be rough and with splinters at first and yet, the touch can solve that problem as well. It becomes polished to perfection through our caress.

You can walk right into the forest with an axe or a knife, find a deadfall branch and begin making art. No other material lends itself so directly to man's creative genius.

Joe mentioned the young couple in the furniture store, and it brings up all kinds of questions about wood. Wood can be such a simple and direct material with such depth of integrity, and yet we know that the wood most people have in the furnishings of their homes isn't really wood at all, but material mixed and compressed from a stew of random forest fibers, reshaped and decorated with printed images on plastic film.

There are several factors that go into the value of an object. One is the integrity of the material. You might ask, is it real? Real wood can be sanded, repaired and refinished. A piece of furniture made from real wood can thus be made to last generations. Another factor is the integrity of the craftsmanship. A craftsman can put into the making of things, the full extent of his knowledge and experience. How can he really know how to do that with newly invented materials? The best craftsmen choose materials with integrity that allow their use of techniques that make their work last beyond their own times. The third factor is the care that is given when the craftsman's work is done. Real wood sustains greater wear without loss of value or appearance, and seldom reaches that sorry point at which the owner of the work no longer cares for it.

The photos above and at left are of a steam bent hickory music stand I made for a violinist. My intent was for it to look as though it just waltzed from the woods. In a sense, it did.

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