Catch a Fallen Tree

9/9/2016

Fall 2016

Eco-friendly Reclaimed Woods Get a Second Life

If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a lovely dining room table? 

Actually it can, and that’s only scratching the surface. Thanks to an ever-growing number of ecologically minded artisans, woods from such diverse sources as abandoned homes in Detroit, industrial refuse in Brooklyn, and Asian beetle-ravaged trees in Milwaukee are being given brilliant new life. 

Infinite Sustain(Ability)

Craftsmen fashioning buildings in early 20th-century Detroit likely never imagined that the pine boards they nailed together would one day be used to make music. But that’s exactly what’s happening in the Motor City, in part, thanks to Subaru Outback owner Mark Wallace. Since 2014, he has sourced wood salvaged from abandoned Detroit homes and industrial structures to build electric guitars with “a vintage sound” for his company Wallace Detroit Guitars. Wallace attributes the guitar’s classic tonal range to the higher density and tighter grain of the old-growth pine. Wallace says the pine, which he uses for the body of the guitars, was likely harvested in virgin forests, “around the time of the earliest electric instruments.” Newer pine is too soft and wouldn’t produce the sound he desires, though he occasionally uses other wood varieties such as mahogany, maple, and walnut. And each tawny guitar, with its butcher block-style grain pattern, notes the address where the wood was sourced.

Each handcrafted guitar comes with a picture of the house it was made from.
Electric guitar with a butcher block-style grain pattern made from maple,mahogany and walnut.

 

It’s all part of taking something, like a neglected home that “doesn’t look like it has a lot of value,” and transforming it into an instrument of surprising beauty.

Natural Curves

A few years ago, Paul Kruger began to take long walks along the Hudson River when he needed to clear his mind. It was during these meditative walks that the Brooklyn-based artist started to notice industrial wood discarded along the water’s edge. He began taking some of that wood home with him and sculpting with it. “It kept me going,” he says. Shortly after he started sculpting, Kruger met an Albany-based arborist who salvaged trees harmed by pests or were otherwise unwanted. That meeting gave Kruger a new direction for his wood sculpting and was the impetus for his furniture company, Fallen Industry. Kruger now creates custom furniture and sculptures with salvaged maple, walnut, and more that he sources from tree-removal companies around the country whose top priority, he says, is saving fallen wood from landfills. His creations often mimic the environment from which they came, an effect aided by live edges and table legs sculpted to resemble tree roots. A live edge uses a “tree’s natural form to create something new,” Kruger says, and results in deep-hued tabletops with organic shapes and gentle curves that contain agate-like growth rings. 

Kruger collecting discarded wood along the Hudson River.Kruger collecting discarded wood along the Hudson River.

Three by Ten by Tree sculpture created by Paul Kruger and made from New York City Hudson River driftwood.
Kruger’s Burl Coffee Table made from salvaged fallen maple trees.

Hidden Gems

In 2014, Milwaukee-based Melissa Pare began an accessory and jewelry line called Moraye by crafting minimalist and linear pieces using fallen urban wood. Having spent three years in New Mexico, her aesthetic has taken on a Southwestern flavor with modern flourishes. But while her pendant necklaces, earrings, and wood wallets look contemporary, the materials used to create them are most certainly not. Pare uses pieces of maple and black walnut, which she buys from a tree service that removes mostly diseased or inconveniently located urban trees around the Milwaukee area. That service sells the wood to makers like Pare and provides a second life for trees that would otherwise be discarded. Pare mills the wood into very thin slabs and then uses a laser cutter to create her intricate geometric masterpieces. While her creations also incorporate brass, leather, and acrylic paint, it’s the reclaimed wood that enchants her most. “I get very seduced by the texture,” she says. And she appreciates expressing her artistic side in a way that involves “breathing new life” into fallen timbers.

Jewelry artist Melissa Pare wearing her laser-etched earrings made from birch.
Hair piece with acrylic paint accents.

The Grain of History

While the National Park Service (NPS) prefers its trees to stay where they fall, there are occasionally exceptions. The rarest just might be the pine trees from Yellowstone National Park that were auctioned off in the early 1990s, after a million-acre fire stunted the growth of a stand of surviving trees, says Keith Sproule. Those 200-year-old lodgepole pine trees, the most prevalent pine variety in the park, were eventually purchased at an auction and used to build Sproule’s upscale Bentwood Inn in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The five-bedroom bed-and-breakfast, which has been recognized for its green initiatives, now sits just 70 miles from where the trees originally stood in the park. Many of the largest sandy blond logs, with bark that was removed to reveal the knots and notches that make each tree unique, were used to construct the Inn’s great room. Sproule thinks that those logs, and the hundreds of Yellowstone pines that were used to create Sproule’s center for respite and reflection, help his guests understand “the connectivity of our place.” 

The great room of the Brentwood Inn, located in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
The great room of the Brentwood Inn, located in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

 

Whether it’s to establish pride of place or out of a desire to preserve as many of our resources as possible, these artisans are creating useful objects that showcase the singular beauty of old trees and preserve their intrinsic histories for the enjoyment of future generations.