Our first project has begun, parameters being: small, simple, sweet and solid wood. Composing – the resident word for making a piece of furniture – starts somewhere on the spectrum between material and design. At one extreme, we can begin by seeking out a slab of wood that excites our imagination, basing details of design on attributes of the slab itself – much like a renaissance sculptor sitting with his freshly quarried marble until he understands what story lives inside it. At the other end of the spectrum, we can start with an intent or design and find the right wood to match.
Looking through the shop’s wood room brings to mind the words of ninth-century Chinese poet, Han Shan, who was more recently popularized in the West by beat generation writers. He left his life as a civil servant, retreating to an area known as Cold Mountain – long venerated as the home of spirits and immortals – where he inscribed poems ‘on trees and rocks or the walls of the houses and offices in the nearby village.’Here is a tree older than the forest itself;
The years of its life defy reckoning.
Its roots have seen the upheavals of hill and valley,
Its leaves have known the changes of wind and frost.
The world laughs at its shoddy exterior
And cares nothing for the fine grain of the wood inside.
Stripped free of flesh and hide,
All that remains is the core of truth.
Han Shan’s words seem to ring true for composing furniture. Figuring out what to make is uncovering the core of a truth that lives within the wood and myself. I was after a slab with some straight grain, consistent and light colouring as well as some contrasting checks and knots. I wanted help expressing how our weaknesses and our wounds – the scars we bear – make us stronger or how our differences and perceived shortcomings are what make us beautiful.
I never thought I would be intrigued by something as red as this slab of gum wood. But inside the knots and straight grain, I suppose, I saw my family, the reds and browns in their hair, I heard Virginia Woolf’s words: ‘I have been knotted; I have been torn apart,’ – and I saw orangutans, limply knotted in sweet embrace. Yet, unlike Han Shan, I want to carve these stories out of, not into, a tree.