July 29, 2010

Bryce Canyon Floor Lamp

I just posted a blog entry about one of my two entries to the Living With Crafts exhibition, where you can read about my table lamp made with a Banksia Seed Pod. The second piece in the exhibit is the one pictured on the right. It is made with a fantastic piece of Redwood Burl, combined with the lighter color parts made of Sugar Maple. The burl parts came from a single thick plank of Redwood, and the color and grain patterns are densely packed with swirls and eyes. The Maple is not as wildly dramatic, but has an interesting side story. It came from a tree I cut down when I built our home 30 years ago, and I cut the planks with a chain saw mill. One of those boards has been buried in the back of my wood shed for all these years, and finally resurfaced this winter, in time to become a part of this project.

The title of the piece is Bryce Canyon Floor Lamp, because for me it is loosely reminiscent of the bizarre natural stone forms in Bryce Canyon National Monunment in Utah. At the bottom of this post is a photo from Bryce, where you can perhaps see the influence. It is one of my favorite places on earth, almost seems impossible that such a place could be formed naturally.

There are other influences that relate to this form. You could say it looks a bit like a sand castle dribble-tower. It also looks a bit like one of the spires of Gaudi's cathedral in Barcelona, a form and an architectural marvel I have always felt attached to. And finally, I connect this floor lamp with a stone fountain made by Louis Pomerantz that I have been lusting after. In any case, this idea of rounded shapes piled up on top of one another is clearly a new aesthetic for me, that I think I will be exploring more in the future. I am most curious to hear comments from you if you have thoughts to share.

Living With Crafts: Banksia Table Lamp

I have been working with Banksia Seed Pods for a couple of years, since Kathy and I went on a trip to Australia and actually saw the pods "in the wild." They grow on a hardwood tree native only to that country. There are actually 175 varieties of Banksia, most of which produce pods that are much smaller, acorn to plum size, and the ones we saw in person were very small. But in the deserts of Western Australia, Bull Banksia (Banksia Grandis) is much larger, from 4-16” long. When flowering, they are even larger, since each of the tiny bumps on the surface sprouts a long spike of flower petal forming a shape that is like a giant bottle brush in yellows, greens, and reds.

Interestingly, the Banksia name comes from Joseph Banks, the famous botanist on Captain Cook’s vessel, The Endeavor, as it circled the globe in the 1700’s in what is rightly considered one of the greatest missions of geographic and biological discovery.

Banskia pods resemble pine cones in a general way, but they are much more dense and heavy. That makes them strong and substantial. They are extremely difficult to carve, since the internal structure is brittle and honeycombed with the empty seed cavities. And they are also impregnated with micro-grains of sand from their desert habitat, and that dulls tools quickly. So I mostly work them by literally grinding away the material to get the best form for my purposes – not the most fun way to turn wood, but the results are so stunning, and I keep going back to this material.

There are several layers to a Banksia pod. The outer crust is grayish and bumpy, punctuated by smiling lips at the edges of the seed cavities. Then right after that is a layer of crimson felt that almost seems unnatural in it’s softness and perfection. Under the felt is a rock-hard core that radiates out from the central pith. Each pod is different in shape, arrangement of cavities, and coloration of the core.

Until this spring, the largest pods I could obtain in this country were maybe 8" long, great for candle lanterns. But this year, I found a source for a few extraordinary pods that were 11-14" long. That made it possible to make a lamp base using a single pod, with a wider base made of a different kind of wood (Teak in this case). The results are stunning, with the light shedding down over the varied surface textures of the pod in ways that really picks up the felt areas, the dark cavities, and the wild grain textures.

What a dramatic combination for the warm glow coming thru the side of the shade.

The photo at the top is of the table lamp that will be in the Living With Crafts exhbition at the Sunapee Craft Show (more accurately known as the Annual Fair of the League of NH Craftsmen). Hopefully you will get a chance to see it there. But since making that one, I have made four others using these pods, with different forms and different companion wood for the bottom disk. The photo below shows a whole seed pod.