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Rosette Table

3/6/17

I made this table a couple of years ago but didn’t get around to writing about it because of health issues. It came about because I had been thinking about doing something to do with a marine theme and also something “op artish.”  I wondered if the wood textures would add or subtract from the figure and if there would be enough contrast.

Sprials are fascinating and beautiful and all over the biological world. I first thought of snails and especially the nautilus shell since I was going after something marine. But, you also find spirals over in the plant world,  such as in broccoli, composite flowers, cacti, pine cones, etc. I really liked the idea of using a spiral as a symbol of the wonder of the biological world. Of course, there it is in the night sky (spiral galaxies), so even better.

I thought of doing a snail or Nautilus or a sunflower more or less realistically with marquetry, but both images would really be about the respective creatures rather than the spiral. It wouldn’t be so symbolic or all encompassing.

I ran across an article on logarithmic rosettes by Paul Calter [1] and on its connection to the Fibonacci sequence by Dan Reich [2], and these convinced me to do a logarithmic rosette with 13 points.  Calter pointed out that in rosettes based on the logarithmic spiral all of the dark triangles are similar geometrically as are all of the light ones. This is a big advantage when cutting wood pieces on the table saw to make exact fits.

I’m very pleased with the visual aspect of the piece. As you look at the rosette, your eye (or mind) tries to fill in the missing (light) parts of the petal figures to create a whole petal (this is called “closure”). But there are four sets of petals, so your eye (or mind) is constantly moving. This is the op art part of the piece.

The two woods add to this illusion and keep your eye moving. The quilted maple (light triangles) exhibits chatoyance, as in Tigers Eye gemstones, and as you move your viewpoint slightly, the wood appears to move. The ribbon striped Sepele reflects light in alternating directions from stripe to stripe depending on your viewpoint as well. So, all in all, I found the rosette figure to be very intriguing visually and enhanced by the use of these special woods. I only wish I could show you these dynamic effects in a photo as they are in real life.



[1] Paul Calter, "How to Construct a Logarithmic Rosette (Without Even Knowing It)", Nexus Network Journal, vol. 2 ( 2000), pp. 25-31. http://www.nexusjournal.com/Calter.html

[2] Dan Reich, “The Fibonacci Sequence, spirals and the golden mean”, https://math.temple.edu/~reich/Fib/fibo.html, Department of Mathematics, Temple University

 

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Trees of Harmony

2/23/17

I am excited to be introducing my newest work at the 2017 Camano Arts Association Studio Tour on Camano Island on Mother’s Day Weekend (May 12-14)  and the following weekend (May 20-21). I call this series of tables Trees of Harmony

Tree of Harmony I
I took a more sculptural approach with these tables than in my previous work, departing from the usual furniture pattern of four legs, apron, symmetry, etc.  I chose to work with these burls, with their extreme visual and tactile textures, because they made such a strong connection for me with the natural world. The asymmetrical base completely fits with the irregular swirls and knobs of the burl and evokes images for me of tree trunks, roots, puddles, rocks and other natural objects.

These table tops have a lot of natural burl edges and burl surfaces.  The textures are really extraordinary, and the natural burl edge is much more dramatic than the usual “live” edge. If you like the idea of natural edges -- the sense of being closer to nature or of being reconnected to nature --I think you’ll really love these tables. To me, the edges are so striking and so noticeable that they will set the tone for their area of a home.

I pondered quite a while on the type of base that would be appropriate for these burls – pedestal vs. four legs, round or square, curved or straight, metal vs. wood,  natural (like a root) vs. crafted, etc.. None of these in my opinion reached the bar set by the burls in their natural state. I wanted something that worked in harmony with the feeling provided by the burls, that maintained and extended the connection with the natural world, yet I wanted something that would also work with more typical, refined furniture pieces.  The approach I came up with is an abstract of the tree itself.

In contrast to the edge, the flat part of the table tops display the exotic, visual burl texture of irregular, spherical swirl patterns. This exotic wood was the favorite of Kings and Emperors in times past. The live edge, tactile texture was not. So the two faces of the burl are exposed. The Yin and the Yang.  They work together to make an extraordinary piece. Harmony.

 

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Natural edges and Spalted Wood

7/21/14

I’ve said before that my furniture is about the wood. Many of my pieces have “imperfections,” such as knots, that would not be acceptable in mass produced furniture that seeks uniformity, not to mention special figure, burl and sapwood. These properties make the piece speak of its natural origins. But natural or “live” edges and spalted wood move the piece even further in this direction.

Both spalting and live edges are striking visually, as in this wall cabinet. You don’t really need to go beyond that to justify its use. However, both characteristics are very symbolic in my mind.

Spalting is caused by fungus. Fungus is an extremely important part of the ecology of a forest, being essential not only for recycling biomass but in promoting growth as well. If you look at this detail of the natural edge of the cabinet, you’ll see tracks made by beetles hosted by the living tree. So, natural edges and spalting are features that speak not only of the tree itself as a living creature, but they reference the whole community of organisms in which the tree functioned.

In this way we see that wood is more than a building material that has no meaning until we shape something with it, and it is more than just a beautiful natural product. Wood, and these natural features of wood, are in fact symbolic of life and community and of our dependence on the natural world.

Mixing the refined craftsmanship of the cabinetmaker and joiner with natural edges and spalting presents a contrast that just can’t be ignored.  The one is a very utilitarian and anthropocentric view, the other a poetic and scientific view. That is how it has always been. We humans have a long history of association with trees, much of it a utilitarian history. But there is also a long poetic and symbolic history. However, today many of the world’s forests and the communities they support are threatened. Including these natural features into our furniture can help remind us of the origins of the material and of their importance to a healthy world.  

 

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Using inlay and marquetry

7/21/14

Inlay and marquetry can be an extremely effective method of drawing attention and creating focus, and most importantly for me as designer, a visual reference or context in which to design the piece. It seems like a traditional use of inlays in furniture was simply to make a piece less plain, such as adding a border of Acanthus leaves might do. I haven’t used inlay in this way for a couple of reasons. First, something like the Acanthus leaves would have no particular meaning to me, and second, I don’t think this kind of symmetric use is particularly effective in creating a focus. Another traditional kind of piece uses marquetry to create a picture, sometimes so extensive as to obscure the wood completely. That is something I’m not interested in doing.

What I’ve tried to do is use marquetry or inlay to create a theme for the piece, focus the eye, and draw the viewer into looking at the whole design, including the woods. My marquetry and inlay has generally been asymmetric, high contrast, and organic themed.   

A visual reference that has motivated many of my pieces is the Chinese garden. Sitting in a garden kiosk, you see a plum tree beginning to bloom or just some leaves framed by a lattice work. The plantings are well distributed, allowing your eye to focus on just an element of the garden, framed by the lattice.  This was the original reference that motivated my plum blossom pieces, as in the following Seattle style table. 

I like to find ways to connect the visual reference for the marquetry with the structure of the piece. For example, in the Plum Blossom cabinets, I am able to carry through the visual reference to lattice work in the marquetry to an actual lattice work in the apron of the base.

In the Ginkgo console table, my visual reference was the yellow, windblown leaves of the Ginkgo in Fall. I have two Ginkgo trees, and in November we have lots of wind, so it wasn’t hard to come up with this idea. I make the Ginkgo leaves to look like they’re flying in the wind, but they still have that unique fan shape of the Ginkgo.

But even though these were my immediate references in designing the marquetry, I love being able to incorporate symbolism into my pieces. The dogwood and plum blossoms are a couple of my Spring favorites, signaling the end of winter and beginning of a new cycle of life. Other than incorporating a “broken ice” fretwork, I’m not sure how else you would capture these feelings in furniture. Ginkgo’s are symbols of health, life and endurance, so I like to have Ginkgos around just for good luck. I make the Ginkgo leaves out of Cascara wood as well, and Cascara bark produces a health product, so there is another level of symbolism there.

 

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Inspirations

7/21/14

Seattle Coffee Table
Furniture design is an abstract art form. I don’t approach it in a “non-objective” way, though. I mean, I don’t try to assemble “elements” of lines, shapes, colors, textures, etc., to make a pleasing composition without any reference to the real world.  I think all of my designs have had some visual reference, things such as human and animal forms, streams, farms, wind-blown leaves, floating leaves, spring time, and architecture. So, there is usually a “story” behind my designs. I’ll take architecture as an example.

My inspiration for the “Seattle” line of tables was from the historical buildings my wife and I visited in China and Japanese architecture I’ve read about. I was really fascinated with the roofs of some of the buildings in China. We saw that they were often decorated with interesting carved figures having symbolic meanings, and I found the repeating rooflines of the pagodas to be very intriguing. In some of the historical buildings, huge logs functioned as pillars. These buildings reminded me more of tables than of our western style buildings.

Playing around with the idea of repeating rooflines, I finally came up with the idea pictured here. The stretchers overlap the legs using a shallow cross-lap joint so that the stretcher is much proud of the leg surface. Judging from the responses I’ve gotten, I think it very effectively evokes the idea of multiple roof lines, but I also find it an interesting detail even without that visual reference.

Other elements that refer to the Asian architecture are the reverse tapered legs (from the log pillars) and the wide overhang of the top (like some Japanese buildings).  However, the negative space around the stretchers and the straight lines work to keep the piece looking very light and Western, and I kept the dimensions of the components modest to enhance this effect and keep the piece looking contemporary. It really is a fusion of my Western tastes and elements of eastern architecture, so that is why I’ve decided to call it the Seattle style.

 

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Favorite Woods

7/21/14

Table top of quilted maple
Many people ask me if I have a favorite wood. Two actually.  Big Leaf Maple and Walnut.  We are lucky in the Northwest in having these two very spectacular species to work with.  Our native maple, Big Leaf Maple, occasionally sports an unusual growth pattern that gives rise to dramatic figure in the wood called “quilt” and “curl.” Perhaps one in a thousand trees will have intensely quilted wood.  I love to use it in my furniture.  Finishing it is an experience.  You never know exactly how great the figure is until you put the final finish to it, and it is exciting to see what you’ve really got! Sometimes it is breathtaking.

Our other spectacular species is Claro Walnut, a species native to the San Joaquin valley in Northern California. It is used extensively as rootstock in California and Oregon for English Walnut.  Claro is a deep rich brown marbled with lighter, darker and reddish streaks and can be figured with “curls” as well.

For some people, wood is wood, either light or dark - just a building material until someone forms something with it. These two woods are for people with a deeper appreciation for wood. Furniture made out of these woods is really a celebration of the wonders and beauty of nature, and I think furniture made with these woods is about the wood. 

The icing on the cake, though, is that these are sustainable woods. Big Leaf Maple grows right through our urban neighborhoods as well as throughout the countryside, and the commercial value of Claro as rootstock would seem to assure its continued existence. In an age we are causing the rapid extinction of so many species, this is critically important.

 

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Welcome to my new website

7/6/14

I've finally taken the time to update my website. The old one was too difficult to maintain so I didn't. The Zhibit software seems very easy to use once you get the hang of it, so I think I can keep on top of it now. I hope, anyway.

The nice thing about this site is I can have a blog. This will give me a place to respond to questions I've been asked over the years as well as let you know what's cooking right now.

 

 

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A curly American Walnut Table!

7/4/14

Table Top for Ginkgo Dining "Bar"
This Ginkgo table top is made out of figured American Black Walnut. Usually, when I want to make a table with fancy walnut, I go for Claro from Oregon or California because really deep figure is rare in the eastern walnut on the market. This is walnut was  very deeply figured as you can see from this figure on the top.

 

 

 

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Fine furniture, Camano Island, marquetry