A Natural Object

The other day I wrote a description of a new piece for our current newsletter, which goes out in two days, and I find that I keep thinking about the piece.  That’s partly because it’s sitting in our living room, where I can keep an eye on it as it gradually settles in, but I also suspect that I haven’t finished writing about it.

hydrology table no. 2

This is the piece.  It’s a coffee table with a top that’s 33″ by 22″, which features a wide top board of local western maple salvaged from millyard scrap.  Once again, a very unpromising board surprised us by cleaning up nicely and making a uniquely beautiful top, one which combines evidence of past water damage with extensive use of epoxy – tinted in a range of blue tones – to repair cracks and fill voids.

The top is literally unique, because it displays the particular history of what happened to it after the tree was harvested.  Woodboring insects attacked the green lumber, leaving the typical large exit holes in the wood surface.  Water stained the wood surface.  The wood cracked in several places;  it was nearly broken in two in the middle.  The wood was quite cupped from uncontrolled drying.  Traces of all these events are visible in the finished top;  in fact, the tinted epoxy makes the repaired areas stand out.

The resulting table is a useful article that celebrates this particular history and thereby does what environmental art must do in our age:  call attention to our intimate relationship with the natural environment.  The history of what happened to this board is a history of human actions (or neglect) combined with the processes of nature.  Nature produced not only the beautiful tree but also the water damage, insect decay and so on, with humans playing an important role.  The table points out our relationship to the natural environment as something in need of repair.

Shifting gears, I recently returned from a trip to the town where I grew up, and memories of a 1950’s Texas boyhood are resurfacing.  I remember as a little guy asking my Dad where the gasoline was stored at our neighborhood gas station, since all you could see was the pump.  When I found out that the gas was in underground tanks, I remember asking him what happened if they leaked.  He said in his judicious way that it didn’t seem to be a problem.  My father was an engineer who worked at that time for an oil company, besides being a scrupulously honest man, so I figure he knew what informed professionals knew – which was quite wrong, it turns out.

The other memory that’s coming up is a biblical quote:  the stone that the builders rejected has become the head of the corner, and that seems to sum up this table nicely.

One Response to “A Natural Object”

  1. Evelyn Zlomke says:

    I think that’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever written.

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