It has been said that civilization itself could not have prospered without the tree. Many of us derive our living with the lumber that trees provide, not to mention the other numerous benefits that the marvelous tree provides for its inhabitants, the Earth, and us. Did you ever think that the tree is more than just a lumber source?
Since pre-historic times, trees have been rooted in the mythologies, art and religion of many cultures. Our Christmas tree is a prime example. According to the National Christmas Tree Association there were over 25 million Christmas trees sold in the United States every year and there are currently 350 million of them growing. The image of the Tree of Life is also a favorite in many mythologies. Various forms of this symbol appear in the folklore and mythology of almost every recorded civilization, often relating to immortality or fertility and having deep and sacred meanings throughout the ages.
Trees are used for timber, fuel, landscaping, food, resin, paper, rubber, chemical compounds, and are excellent at producing oxygen. Trees have developed their own defense mechanisms against pests, wounds, and infections, benefits that we humans use every day. These include aspirin from the white willow (acetylsalicylic acid), and taxol, a tree chemical that has become very well-known for its ability to stall some human cancers. The chemical comes from the bark of the Yew, or taxus, a tree growing in the forests along the Pacific Northwest and into Canada. These are just two examples of many, many more chemical compounds and enzymes found in trees that cure, heal and soothe.
The oldest living organism on Earth is believed to be the “Pando” colony of quaking aspen in Utah, also known as the Trembling Giant. The colony of trees covers some 103 acres and is estimated to weigh nearly 6,600 tons, making it also the heaviest known organism. Who knew?
Tree worship (dendrolatry) refers to worship or otherwise mythologize trees. I guess that makes me a sort of modern day dendrolatrist! Like most craft persons starting out making traditional pieces like John Goddard Block Fronts, or Queen Anne Secretary desks, I was originally drawn to what I could do with the wood and how I could make it do what I wanted. After many years as a craftsman, I am now more interested in what the wood wants to be, instead of coming to the wood with a preconceived notion or idea, I look at the natural edge of a board, or a tree limb and see the perfect curvy shape for one of my bench legs. I find in my mature years as a craftsman, I like to celebrate the tree, not hide it. I like knots and all the glorious imperfections in wood; it makes my heart go pitter-patter when I see what nature made when looking at the figurative grain.
I used to purchase lumber from wholesale lumber houses, but now I harvest my own trees and take them to the AP Sawmill in Flagstaff. It is a magical place where I feel like a kid in a candy store. The tree is milled to my specifications by Silas, the sawyer. The reason I do this is because I want the utmost control and most beautiful wood I can get. I have some boards in my woodpile that I have had for over 20 years waiting for that perfect project. Oftentimes I’ll stare at the lumber, waiting for inspiration to hit, and it always does. Ultimately, the wood tells me what it wants to be. I feel like I’m the wood’s partner, not it’s boss. This has made all the difference in my work. So when you find an old dried dead standing oak tree, you might think of firewood but I see an armoire.
I find it humbling to work with this amazing resource to make things for people to enjoy. It is also an honor to be able to create a piece of furniture using wood that we harvested or purchased. Of all the building materials used, wood is unique because it was once a living, breathing creature. When I look at wood I feel a great deal of responsibility to put all of my thought, talent and labor into a piece, in order to give the tree new life. I cannot think of a greater calling.
Gerry Lamanski is an internationally known professional woodworker, cabinetmaker, inventor holding numerous patents and artist. In his 30 years in the design community he has designed and built residential, commercial and hotel furniture and fixtures. His most unique projects included a secret, hidden room in a Southwest art collector’s office, professional magician’s props and the interior of Willie Nelson’s private tour bus. Renowned for his Arizona Ranch Style designs he was named one of Phoenix Home and Garden’s “Master of the Southwest” for 2014. Working from his studio in Tempe, Arizona, Gerry continues to delight and surprise the design community with his innovative and timeless designs. In his spare time he serves on an advisory committee for a non profit helping veterans and fosters for a local dog rescue group. Should you have a challenging project you can reach him through his website www.arizonaranch.com.