My sister Ann said, I have been told that I should take down this dead Walnut tree for fear it will fall on the house.  My neighbor, she added, has offered to have it cut into planks when he is having some of his trees done.  Would you be able to use it somewhere in the restoration, maybe floorboards in the sitting room?

The problem was that when it came to sorting through the planks, still waney edged, they were all different widths and shapes and lengths, so I opted to lay a timber subfloor so that I did not have to support the ends on floor joists.  I could then make up random patterns with the Walnut.  The next problem was that, when I laid them out, there was not enough to do the whole room.  So I suggested making up what was missing by inserting panels of ceramic floor tiles dotted in random clusters through the walnut.

The result was stunning.

Born Again

Then, a couple of years ago, Jonathan Cox the Ceramicist and a friend of many years, was having a run of work coming out of the kiln and subsequently splitting.  As an admirer and collector of his ceramics, it seemed unthinkable that they should just be discarded especially after all that work and their intrinsic beauty even if they were now in two or three parts.  I asked him to show me the pieces and he brought down three plaques 50-60cm in diameter.  I related the story of the walnut floor and asked him to let me try setting the pieces in timber surrounds to give them a new lease of life.  Somewhat dubiously I suspect he agreed, saying that they would only end up on the scrap heap and implying that whatever I did could be no worse!

The first one I set in Cherry planks laid randomly as cladding on the bedroom wall of a house I was building in France.  The other two I did as moveable panels that could be hung like a picture or incorporated into paneling.  These were set in Sweet Chestnut and Cherry offcuts from the staircase and wardrobes from the same house build.

With both of us delighted with the results, he let me plunder his discards and seconds in order to take the idea further.  I then thought, what if it is not just the ceramics that are broken, as if maybe the artist had snapped it over his knee in frustration. And the next thought was, ‘and maybe the colours have bled from the pottery over onto the wood. So I started tinting some of the wood and another avenue opened up.

When he, annoyingly, figured out what had been causing the pieces to crack, the supply of pottery needing rescue all but ran out.  I stopped short, because of the ethics and sensibilities, of buying a perfect piece and putting it under the hammer!

Natural Progression

By now thoroughly intrigued with the potential I had stumbled on and, as a long term woodworker, having a workshop creaking with offcuts put by rather than chucked in the woodburner, I thought, if Jonathan is not going to oblige by have anymore catastrophes  I will just have to substitute something else for his pottery.  So I tried slate and stone, other bits of ceramics until the realisation dawned that you do not actually need anything other than the wood. 

Take any offcut and put it in the spotlight so that attention is focused on it, on the swirls of its grains, the nuance of tones. Then lay it out amongst a myriad of shapes of other species, such that the interplay of forms, patterns and colours result in a piece of art full of movement and lyricism with harmony and counterpoint to draw the eye to roam through the landscape of the work.

And on

The more I experimented the more deliberate the work became, some of it just decorative, some architectural, some more of the spirit but often a commentary on contemporary life. For me now, every picture has a meaning, every one makes a statement, so that now totally enthralled and absorbed, I have a whole coterie of ideas rattling round in my head awaiting their turn to be spat out on to the work bench.            

I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. I am eager to see where this exploration of the woods will lead.