There was a maple not far from a path I frequented. A grand sentinel, he stood broad and tall. I first noticed a fungal growth about its base in ’02, and in ’03 I saw it was worsening fast, so I felled it before it could rot out entire. Oh, how the ground shook.
The first 9 feet were rotted hollow. Where I cut clean I counted the rings, an eye-crossing effort for they were so tight and close. This tree struggled for light all its life, growing slowly, and when I had them all counted I understood what shook the ground and me so deeply. For 360 years this tree had taken a gesture, and grown thick with intention.
This cabinet I built in the fall of 2008 with wood from that tree. The doors for the front panel are hand coopered, a process whereby the boards are cut and then re-joined, two at a time, using hand planes and chisels to achieve a uniform curvature. The cabinet sits atop a stand built with wood from the same tree. I used blocks of wenge along the top shelf to accent the spalting marks in the grain. These are the dark markings you see figured into the wood. They come from the rain water that collected in the tree once it became sick, the water draining downward and marking the wood. You want to save the wood just before the point when the water turns to rot and hollows out the tree entire.
I look to this live material for guidance in finding both its function & its form, because I believe that a useful object can be art. If one sees how the piece holds itself together, how the separate components cooperate, then it comforts the eye & delights the mind. Joinery then serves as ornamentation. In my opinion, with wood like this, you don’t need anything else.