El Jebel, Colorado
Aspen wood has an earthy, musky scent; when I took my first cut for this chair, the smell of it took me back to my beginnings: building rustic log aspen beds in an 80 year old log cabin in the middle of a Pine and Aspen forest.
Since then, I've stayed away from using this tree because I wanted to explore new species. But now, coming back to Aspen was a bit like coming home.
It was Fall in Colorado and I was camped out at 9,000 ft. The ground was soft, the weather was cool, and I had easy access to hundreds of acres of forest. This was going to be the best camping and building trip yet.
The Camping Trip
Arriving at my camp site feels otherworldly;
cool foggy air strips away the haze of a long day of travel and fills me with clarity and energy.
I look for a shady, flat area on high ground with trees nearby to string up some tarps. Then I sit for a while.
With all my electronics turned off, the only sounds I hear come from the forest: wind quaking the leaves, birds and squirrels chirping, insects buzzing...
The chair begins with the forest. With the techniques I've developed, the natural shape of the tree is maintained in the style of the chair. The shape of the branches will be the shape of the chair.
Aspen trees tend to grow straight, and this chair will reflect that.
It was hunting season, so I tromped through the woods harvesting with an orange hunter's vest on, carrying my tree-trimming pole and gathering branches.
This chair began with the lower back. Notice the arms starting off the back with a naturally forked branch.
Designing the chair is a piece by piece process, with one branch flowing seamlessly into the next.
I might have ideas on what the chair will look like, but after the first few pieces are connected, my ideas are quickly tossed.
This is the biggest reason for me to be camped out while building: I can search around for pieces that will fit together.
The back legs are attached with forked branches coming up to support the seat, which is pictured behind the chair.
The chair design begins with the branches, but building a chair that's comfortable requires precision with the angles and spacing.
A dialectical relationship develops between me and the trees: they provide the substance of the chair while I bring form to matter and shape the chair to the needs of the human body.
Back Home for Upholstery
With most of my chairs, the upholstery is done in the woods, so the end result of a campout is a complete chair. This chair, however, went through many changes in the leather-working.
The branch-work on these chairs comes very easily for me, but adding the leather-work and design has not been as smooth. That's been a big area of growth for me as an artist, and this chair proved to be a break-out point.
One design for the leather featured many clusters of leaves.
Each leaf is molded by hand to have the look and feel of a real leaf.
I liked the leaves, but when I attached the upholstery to the chair, something bugged me about it.
After a few weeks of living with it, I realized the design was too busy and distracted from the rest of the chair.
It was already my third piece of leather that I spent many hours tooling, but I had to rip it off and start over.
The guiding principle behind my vision for the chairs is to stay as true as possible to the natural shape of the tree, to not impose my ideas on the branches, but to let them ultimately shape the chair.
That's where I fell back to in my angst, to try to let nature speak with its own voice. And so my vision was to create a scene as true as possible to the forest from which the branches were taken.