River Art Design

Here is a draft design for a piece of riverside art, to be placed on public land near the Napa River in the City of Napa.  The project is financially supported by a grant from Arts Council Napa Valley, with additional labor donated by the artist and by Friends of the Napa River.

The design is illustrated by a wooden model shown in the first photo.  The basic idea is first to flatten a log on two opposing faces, making a kind of bench;  and then to cut the whole into angled segments and reassemble them into what you might call a segmented serpentine bench.  The bench is designed to mimic gently the shape of the land surface where it is placed;  the heights of individual segments vary, as do the angles between the segments in plan view.

There will be willows or other native plants at various locations on the uphill side and the ends, incorporating the installation into the natural scene.

The piece is conceived as a conscious response to the complex river environment, of which the log is a kind of emblem.  The log should look like something that belongs there.  At the same time, however, the artist’s interventions are unmistakable – the flat surfaces of varying height, and the angled joints between segments.  These elements remind us that humans are active in the watershed, for good or ill.

This bench should be made out of a single log.  The second photo shows a locally salvaged redwood log – it’s the one marked with blue paint – that is about 30 inches in diameter and 16 feet long.  The log is available for the project thanks to the good offices of the Napa County Flood District, and to the generosity of Pacific Tree Care in Calistoga for donating the log.

The artist’s intention is to construct the piece in such manner that natural processes of decay are minimized.  The candidate log is redwood, which has very decay resistant heartwood, and the finished piece will be all heartwood except for a bit on the rounded sides.  In addition, it will be important to install the piece in a manner that discourages water from puddling on or around it, while securely pinning the segments together.  To discourage the log segments from splitting open on the top or sides, each segment will have a relief cut on the bottom face running with the grain.

Arts Council Napa Valley Awards Grant for Napa River Art

In partnership with Friends of the Napa River, Robert Zlomke has received a grant from Arts Council Napa Valley to create a piece of riverside art.  The project will use large woody debris from the river to create a sculpture at the river’s edge celebrating the river and our connection to it.

“We think the time is right to call everyone’s attention to our relationship with the river that makes downtown Napa possible,” said furniture maker and wood artist Robert Zlomke.  “This piece will be about our sense of place in a complex river environment.”

With the support of staff of the Napa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, we are now busy locating material.  Friends of the River and the artist will fine-tune the  design this spring and explore locations with the City of Napa.  We hope to install the project by the end of the year.


for more information: 

Friends of the Napa River                             707-254-8520

Robert Zlomke                         707-688-7096

Hall Tables

Last fall, when I was making plans for the winter, a gallery owner I’ve known a long time happened to mention something about hall tables, and for some reason the idea took root. It struck me that a simple one-drawer table at counter height, which one might place in an entry hall, is useful but not overly constrained by the nature of its use.

As it happened, I had some new pieces of salvaged wood which seemed like a natural vehicle for the whimsical ideas which were attacking me right about then.  In the end I made three pieces, all of them sized for convenient use near the front door, except that one – the troll table – decided to be short.

All three tables explore the expressive power of salvaged wood.  The design of each of them starts with a finger-jointed drawer case made of walnut, and the structure is otherwise open, with the top and legs set off from the case by a quarter-inch reveal;  otherwise they are quite different, each of the tables following a design logic inspired by the distinctive wood slabs featured.

Hall Table 2015 no. 1 detail 72dpi

Detail, Table No. 1


Table no. 1 has a slab of locally salvaged eucalyptus on top.  When eucalyptus trees were introduced to northern California a hundred years ago, they were expected to provide useful lumber, along with various other benefits.  This is a gorgeous piece of wood, but you can see why eucalyptus turned out to be problematic for furniture:  many large cracks appeared in the top during drying.  In this case, however, the cracks make a beautiful feather-like pattern that adds a feeling of lightness without detracting from the solid usefulness of the table.  There is also a drawer front – of salvaged local walnut, like the drawer case – that preserves on its face some of the mill marks it came to us with.  We were able to save their visual and tactile qualities while buffing with 400 grit sandpaper, always a delight.  The legs are of curly eastern walnut that adds yet another bit of visual texture, and all of these woody surfaces are set off by polished chrome hardware.

Hall Table 2015 no. 2 72dpi

Table No. 2


Table no. 2 features wood from an old elm that our friend and photographer Eric had to remove from his Oakland back yard in 2010, after it died of Dutch elm disease.  A nice selection of boards found their way to Napa, where we dried them and have started turning them into furniture.  The table incorporates some graphic ideas we have lately been experimenting with, notably our finelines details and the use of tinted epoxy to fill voids.  And the table has one leg that seems to be going its own whimsical way, in contrast to its well-behaved siblings, a consequence of the way that particular bit of wood dried.  In the lumber, I remember that the wild leg was directly adjacent to the knot that you see on the drawer front, which is no doubt responsible for the warp.


The Troll Table principally features local orchard walnut we got from a man on Darms Lane in 2014, and we have again taken pains to preserve visual and tactile signs of the origins of the material.  This coffee-height table uses plain steel spacers rather than chrome, on the thinking that trolls wouldn’t have chrome.

The Troll Table is on display at the Highlight Gallery in Mendocino, along with Hall Table No. 1.  We still have table no. 2 on hand and will be showing it at Open Studios Napa Valley this September.