{ Category Archives: material lifecycle }


arborigin cover

Arborigin is a collaborative project that brings together artists, designers and artisans to produce fine products from a single elm tree salvaged from Chicago’s urban forest. We invite those interested to submit a proposal to use some of our inventory of cured lumber and hope to bring the finished products together for a pop up store in Chicago in 2014. In simple commerce we aim to incubate ideas for ongoing partnership.

Arborigin is akin to the farm-to-table movement in food. The project asks us to consider what kinds of products a single tree might yield when the means of production, distribution and sales are highly localized. What stories and values become embedded in everyday objects when we know exactly what they were made from and who made them? Arborigin asks us to think differently about trees, about things and how they are made and used, about the relationships that connect us to place. 

The Arborigin Team seeks proposals that model an approach to designing and making that celebrates the inherent attributes of wood from a single tree. We hope to produce products that are multiples; affordable, repeatable objects, that are both useful and artful. Proposals will be solicited by invitation and through an open RFP. Proposals can be for either: 

• Fine Art: sculpture, painting, conceptual work

• One-off/prototypes

• Design/ Craft:  preferably small multiples of everyday objects such as furnishings, housewares, toys and games, instruments, or other functional objects.

To learn more about Arborigin and register to participate, please click here (www.arborigin.com).

To read about the development of the Arborigin Project, please click here and scroll down.

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Deep Craft video

I’m proud to post the final episode of Kirsten Dirksen’s three part documentary she filmed in one day this past winter when she was visiting from Barcelona, home base for her company, faircompanies.com. This is my favorite one and I think it does a wonderful job of presenting the core of my Deep Craft philosophy. I especially appreciate her featuring my Deep Deck so prominently, which I’m poised to launch this summer at Storefront Lab in San Francisco through a three week pop-up store project I’m calling Deep Craft Atelier (more about this soon).

To watch the video on Kirsten’s site, read her commentary and link to her other video productions featuring “community and access to tools on sustainable culture”, please click here.

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Stickered Table for Shed (process)


Two identical bases of green pecan, ready to receive the top, a giant slab of sycamore.

Whenever I design and make a new piece of furniture, I’m always keenly aware of how it will age, and how the piece might transform over time to encourage and support future, as yet unforeseeable patterns of use. I’ve been collecting choice local woods over the years, all neatly stickered in the barn, so my design process usually begins with rummaging through my piles for inspiration, making measurements and drawing directly onto the wood with white chalk. My primary criteria at this early stage is whether the piece of furniture I have in mind is the appropriate final destination for the wood- will it do the tree justice? I’ve always thought of my furniture as a way of extending the life of a tree, as a way of simultaneously storing and appreciating wood by putting it to good use; living daily life as an extension of making.

As I continue to collect and store local woods, and especially as I begin to mill trees myself, I’m becoming more attuned to the value of locally sourced, well-sawn, air-dried wood as a commodity. An increasingly scarce resource, fine wood is a good investment and increases dramatically in value, especially if it has the added cache of ecological responsibility, streaming from the urban forest, or as ‘horticultural salvage’. Because handmade furniture ultimately needs to compete in the marketplace with an increasingly sophisticated range of mass-market comparables, it can be challenging to offer a price point in proportion to the value of the material itself, which is a dilemma, even if the quality of the finished product is markedly higher. This is especially the case when ‘studio furniture’ needs first and foremost to meet rigorous functional, as well as aesthetic requirements.


I milled grooves into the stickers for better air flow and to allow for movement.

While my way of thinking about wood-as-commodity has lived quietly in the background of most of my furniture design to date, I’ve been wanting do make a new body of work where the concept is front and center, both in the process of making and in the process of using the furniture. To this end, I’m grateful to my friend Cindy Daniel, who commissioned a ‘Demonstration Table’ for Shed, her Healdsburg-based café/retail/community hub offering local foods, goods and quality wares. Shed is Cindy’s contemporary spin on the traditional country mercantile store, and I’ve enjoyed working with her over the past two years designing interior scenarios for the new building currently under construction, a large, open air metal structure designed by Mark Jensen.

sticker table sketch

My original thumbnail sketch for the Stickered Table

As much as my Demonstration Table for Shed will serve as a gathering place in the café, it doubles as a process piece for the duration of the enterprise, establishing a kind of invented tradition. The table’s base consists of two nearly identical stacks of green pecan wood I recently milled from a dying tree, neatly stickered to allow the wood to naturally air-dry. The table’s top, a massive slab of sycamore, rests on top of the two piles, acting as a gravity clamp to keep the material from cupping. I milled V-grooves into the stickers to allow for better air flow and to decrease friction as the boards inevitably shrink. After one year, when the stock is adequately dry, the top will be lifted and the material removed and converted into functional wares for Shed, either to be used in the café or sold as product to customers. This first batch will likely make small table tops for the Shed café, slated to open in October 2012.. The two bases will then be re-constructed, stacked from freshly milled wood each year, that will in turn be made into a small production run of whatever item surfaces in the course of its drying.


I typically shellac and wax the ends of boards to prevent undo checking.

I like the idea of adding an element of ‘crowd-sourcing’ to the design development of an annual product, taking advantage of a constant flow of people gathered around the table while the material slowly cures beneath. I also look forward to maintaining an ongoing relationship with Shed as a kind of artisan-in-residence, collaborating with Cindy to design products that exemplify the Shed ethos.

Please click here to see the table with the top installed.

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Milling the Pecan Tree

wood mizer1

My friend Sean Gavin mills logs on site with his portable Wood-Mizer

I spent an action-packed weekend milling my first tree, a mature pecan (Carya Illinoensis) that grew in the sandy soil of a nearby horse pasture. The tree was beginning to die and had been dropping large branches, threatening the safety of the horses. The property owner decided to take the tree down and I worked with my friend Kevin Paul, a local arborist, to devise a cutting strategy to optimize the wood for on-site milling. I then hired Sean Gavin’s portable mill and worked closely with Sean and a few friends milling sections of the trunk and large diameter branches to my specifications.

pecan tree

Kevin felled the pecan tree into a neighboring pasture for ease of access

Belonging to the hickory family, pecan is notoriously hard, even when green, and the cutting was tough on Sean’s blades. To make matters worse, we hit pockets of nails embedded in the main trunk on several occasions, probably the remains of a treehouse early in the life of the sixty year old tree. Despite the challenges we managed to mill well over one thousand board feet of wood in two short days, and I have a goodly stockpile of pecan wood ready to sticker up in the barn to dry.


We brought in the heavy guns to load the main trunk, weighing about 6000 pounds

I plan to use the smaller branch stock for a project I’m developing for Shed in Healdsburg, and will save the large slabs for future experiments in furniture-making. Measuring up to 16′ long and 2.5″ thick, the large slabs will take over two years to air-dry, which will give me ample time to develop a new line of tables and other furnishings that take advantage of the material’s inherent attributes. Like most hickories, pecan has a pale, creamy sapwood with streaks of honey and light brown, and a dark brown heartwood. Known for its extreme hardness, strength and durability, pecan is prized for making utilitarian items like tool handles, baseball bats, crates and pallets.

pecan log1

the upper trunk, boule cut to 2.5″ slabs

pecan grain1

dark brown heartwood contrasts with the tree’s pale sapwood

The process of milling and curing my own material brings me one step closer to realizing my dream of managing a true, artisan scale, craft production, optimizing the capabilities of our rural studio compound. The next step will be to develop a marketing strategy to sell my wares in sync with the Deep Craft ethos. What’s most exciting to me is the challenge of reverse-engineering ‘design’ around the constraints of scale, site and local relationships, and enjoying every step of the process.

pecan leaf

leaf and fruit of the pecan tree (Carya Illinoensis)

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Holly Meets the Sea

holly logs

I typically paint or wax the ends of green logs/slabs to ensure a slow and even curing.

I’ve begun to harvest some of the holly trees on our property in anticipation of making small bowls, spoons, candlesticks and other tableware for our inaugural Secret Dinner scheduled for this fall. The trees were probably planted about 30 years ago as an ornamental and they’ve grown to an unmanageable height, blocking light and clogging our gutters with their spiny fallen leaves. We’ll continue to make winter wreaths from branches of the remaining variegated shrubs, but I’m eager to try my hand at turning, break in an excellent set of Sheffield chisels and learn a valuable new skill.

In Celtic folklore, the holly tree symbolizes protection, and it’s an ancient tradition to plant them close to dwellings to ward off evil spirits while providing food and shelter for seasonal bird migrations. A healing tea can be brewed from the leaves of certain holly trees, and it was believed that throwing a stick of holly towards bears, wolves and wildcats will ward them away. The tree has also been thought to protect people from threat of lightning and severe weather. I will consider these themes as I turn the wood over the summer for an autumnal feast featuring foraged foods from the sea.

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Running Fence Revisited #1


A section of the fabric from Christo’s ‘Running Fence’ (1976) is used as a backdrop for the Salami Toss at the Occidental Fire Department’s annual summer barbecue.

When Christo and Jeanne-Claude realized their seminal Running Fence project in West Sonoma County in the mid-1970’s, they traded materials used to construct the 24 mile long fence with ranchers in exchange for use of the land. Learning more about the project from first-hand knowledge when our family moved to the area about three years ago, I thought it would be interesting to investigate what remains of the original materials and how they have been put to use by ranchers and others over the past 30 years.

Ene and I wrote a proposal for a project we called Running Fence Revisited (click to see original proposal), for which we are still seeking funding to produce a publication. Meanwhile, I’ve begun to research and document the project on these pages and invite anyone interested in helping to participate by leaving a comment below. The first artifact we’ve discovered related to Christo’s original Running Fence is a section of the fabric still used by the Occidental Fire Department as a backdrop for the Salami Toss concession at their annual summer barbecue, which we attended yesterday.


If you have any information about what remains of Running Fence, would like to learn more about Running Fence Revisited or help us to conduct research, please leave a comment below. Thanks!

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Casting in Bronze


pouring molten bronze into molds for our series of sculptures for Sunnyside Conservatory in San Francisco

We were thrilled to witness the bronze casting of our series of sculptures for the Sunnyside Conservatory Menagerie yesterday at Berkeley’s Artworks Foundry. It has been an honor to collaborate with artisans skilled in the ancient art of lost wax casting and opens up a world of possibilities for our future public projects. While the technique is more resource intensive than any we have employed to date, it has me thinking about the trade-offs and potential rewards of purely aesthetic experiences over a longer time frame. I wonder if there is a metric to compare the impact of things designed to stimulate the public imagination against the effects of the extraction of resources that brought them into being.

fine dry sand is aerated to coat the silica-ceramic molds (see above) for casting bronze

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