A Tree With A Lot To Give

Deep in a wood in northwestern England, a place where deer still roam freely and seem to drink from the morning sun, there's a hole in the ancient canopy of twisted branches and bark, left by a long time resident that has finally moved on.

Before its limb disease, strong and sturdy had always been the description for the tree that once stood with its outstretched arms stretched, before being carted away.

It was tall and proud, just like its neighbors. After all, English oaks have a lot to live up to. This is the story of one in particular that has a lot more living to do.

"Normally, the main trunk of the tree is the only part that produces useable lumber," said furniture craftsman Gary Olson. "The rest of the tree we knew was a waste of product."

So, Olson came up with one tree, one word: a concept to show just how valuable that single oak could be, and in the process, show just how wasteful so many timber companies are.

He commissioned more than 70 local artists and craftsmen, from wood carvers to wood turners. There was even a dress designer, Paula McNamara, who used nothing more than twigs and leaves.

"What I did was just collect the straightest pieces of the branches and chopped and sliced them, so you got the lovely tones of the white against the dark brown bark and then drilled in small holes and then set diamonds in," McNamara said.

The four dresses she fashioned used the least amount from the tree.
"When the tree was actually cut, I actually decided to collect sawdust," she said. "It's just basically glued on to a body stocking."

Olson says he has been giving people branches, twigs and the root ball, which would normally never be dug up.

"That's not commercial viable normally and so we have used stuff that would be firewood or just left to rot," he said.

The discarded wood pieces are changed into art that resembles roosters and fish; furniture such as chairs and tables; and utensils such as plates. There are pots glazed with wood. There's even a fetal stethoscope, all to whispers of delight.

And, patrons can't believe some of the artifacts came from trees. Some who visit the exhibit are tempted to touch the pieces to prove to themselves that they are made of wood.

Olson said his favorite wood ointment is a small tree inside a globe with the message: Look after the tree, the tree will look after the planet.

But perhaps the most striking offer of all came not from small pieces of the tree. It came from large, heavy parts of the stump that are cut into the most delicate pieces of all. Behind a lace of ancient oak, Max Cooper did what few know how to do anymore: handsaw nearly 8,000 individual pieces to paint a picture in wood that took an entire year.

"I loved the concept of one tree," Cooper said. "The challenge of making something out of one wood and to using this oak, which we all love English oak in this country, I wanted to make something special, something which is not expected from English oak, something almost exotic in nature."

Few doubt he succeeded. His work is perhaps the only drinks cabinet with its own tour guide. Some say they can see little squirrels and the acorns carved into the cabinet.

It draws a curious and amazing crowd nearly every day who, if they haven't gotten the message of the exhibit yet, certainly seem to get it there.
"We'd had people come into our workshop and look at a finely finished piece of furniture and then turn to a rough sawn plank of wood and say, 'You didn't really start with that, did you?' It was almost like not realizing that milk comes from cows," Olson said.

Tracy Owen was just given two small pieces of the oak and he made one vase and one bowl. The treasured pieces would all be lost if the wood pieces were discarded; a lesson, he says, would serve large timber companies well.

"It's making a mess of the only two pieces of timber," said Olson. "If something goes wrong, you can't go and get another piece 'cause it was basically all gone."

The same was true for Jeff Sone, who gave birth to this small pig out of the piece he was given. It's now the mascot of the exhibit in part because out of the scraps that he saved.

Even the local smokehouse got involved, using the sawdust from all that carving and cutting to preserve meat.

All the precious gifts of just one tree and one last gift as well. In the very spot where the tree once stood now stands a sapling from one of the original oak's acorns, and it has plenty of room to grow.