My favorite project of 2021...
It’s been a while. Busy summer - lots of shows and meeting cool people. 2020, while a horrendous year for us all, proved to be productive for me - I’ve been cranking out tables right and left since the beginning of the pandemic. I had a couple of juried shows this summer as well as events at Farmer’s markets, and a new Artisan Market in my village of Shorewood. I crafted all kinds of tables with all kinds of wood - coffee tables, console tables, end tables, benches, and live edge counters with ash, oak, butternut, walnut, maple and Purple Heart. I’ve been getting more and more commissions and I learn more every time I make one. I always deliver to the buyer so I can see where that once “dead” slab of tree, now a work of art will be placed.
There was one table this year that stood above and beyond all the others. My partner is a preschool teacher at Schlitz Audubon Nature Center just north of Milwaukee. I’ve volunteered in her classroom a couple of days a week for a few years. Nothing like the expressions of awe from three and four year olds when they see their first slug or watch a deer and her baby laying in the forest. At the Audubon, turkeys meander freely, the turtles climb up branches in the pond to lay in the sun and the sound of the aspens quaking by the bridge make nature- based preschool incomparable.
I had the idea of taking a dried piece of live edge oak that came down in our forest and making a coffee table with it. But the best part would be having all of us, all 150 kids and teachers, work on it together. So we found that piece of milled wood and started sanding. Each child had a small sanding block, and four at a time, they learned how to sand - going with the grain, using the coarsest paper first and keeping the bark on the live edges. The photos above are them working, kid after kid, class after class until it was smooth as butter. I took it home, put a finish and legs on it and brought it back for every child and teacher to sign. We auctioned it off and the proceeds
went the preschool. The Director ended up buying it because she couldn’t let it go. It’s now outside her office. And the was the best table I worked on in 2021.
The fall has arrived bringing stunning glimpses of colorful trees, squirrels and other creatures gathering food and thick winter coats on Wisconsin’s deer. I am writing from a northern forest now and hearing aspens shimmy over head. I don’t look at trees as live edge tables waiting to happen - I love them where they are but those that come down from age, disease or critters (like emerald ash borers) have long lives ahead them as we recycle and beautify them in a wood shop. That is the nature of my work. Nature is my work and it fills me with joy and gratitude.