Gifts of the Forest

May 10, 2011, 09:59 am  Posted by Lark

This year is the centennial of the Weeks Act. What is the Weeks Act? The congressional act that established our Eastern national forests, such as the Pisgah and Nantahala in North Carolina, the Talladega in Alabama, the Oconee and Chattahoochee in Georgia, the Ozark in Arkansas, and many more.

Our national forests differ from national parks because they are managed as a resource for the public good. The economic benefits of our forests are abundant, from building materials to paper products to recreational opportunities—and don’t forget the ecological services they provide such as clean water, the prevention of soil erosion, and habitat for many endangered species. Take a closer look at the history of our national forests in the documentary film The Forest Service and The Greatest Good: A Centennial History and its companion book by James G. Lewis.

There are rich cultural and crafting traditions associated with rural forested areas, which got me thinking about how many of the crafts we publish at Lark involve materials from trees. I gathered a few of my favorite images that celebrate the beauty of wood, a versatile material harvested from our forests.


The table on the left by Richard Bronk shapes cherry, spalted birch, and curly maple into interlocking geometric forms, and can be found in 500 Tables. Yin, Yang and Young, the cabinet on the right by Steven M. White and cover image for 500 Cabinets, certainly shows that wood need not conform to right angles and straight lines when making furniture. The two bowls in the middle show how wood can be sleek and modern, or rough edged and natural. The top middle bowl by Grant Vaughan was on the cover of 500 Wood Bowls, and contrasts modern lines and planes with the supple grain of Australian rosewood. Jerry Kermode‘s bowl, bottom middle, maintains the natural edge of Redwood burl.


It takes a great deal more processing, but using trees to make paper has given us a long and rich history of paper goods, both commercial and handmade. Paper isn’t always made from wood—plant fibers such as cotton, rice, rag, and linen are widely used for decorative and art papers. Wood pulp paper is an alternative that has given us the daily news and reams of office copier paper. On the left is a stack of hand-bound books from Making Handmade Books that shows off the many different ways pages can be colored, cut, folded, and pasted into unique journals. The other two books, both from 500 Handmade Books, do use wood. The pages of Everything/Something by Karen Kunc, middle image, are screen printed pieces of wood. Willow on the right, by Jane De Haan integrates bark and willow into the binding.


On the left, Dawn Walden used black ash, cedar bark, and roots to create Turning Point, a rhythmically geometric basket found in 500 Baskets. On the right, the delicate Leaves basket by Kay Sekimachi masterfully uses big-leaf maple leaves to construct a hollow, round vessel that can also be found in 500 Baskets. Another kind of leaf–pine needles–have long been used in basketry. Color-Go-Round by author Judy M. Mallow, top middle, can be found in Pine Needle Basketry: From Forest Floor to Finished Project. The Free-Floating Coil project, below middle, from Gourds + Fiber by Ginger Summit and Jim Widess shows how pine needles can accentuate the edge of a gourd vessel.


What does ceramics have to do with the forest? Pottery kilns have been stoked with wood since Medieval times in Asia. Wood-firing can be labor intensive and unpredictable, but the wood ashes leave a mineral residue that produces unique shades and textures. This is a collection of works by Cynthia Bringle, a well known potter who uses wood-fired kilns to finish off her masterfully thrown vases. More of her work can be found in The Penland Book of Ceramics.


Trees yield a bounty of delicious foods: Apricots, olives, pecans, figs, maple syrup, and so much more. Of course fruit trees are domesticated and not often found in forests, but what a tasty way to start an urban forest. Fruit trees bear so much fruit you will inevitably find yourself putting up the goods for later. Here are images of what to do with the harvest—apple butter and canned whole peaches from Canning and Preserving in the Homemade Living series by Ashley English.


A long list of gifts: furniture, bowls, paper, and food—so much utility and sustenance for the creative soul. I will end with one of the oldest gifts from the forest, shelter. In the book Building Green I found out about cordwood construction, an attractive alternative to the usual stick-built home. Here you see the cordwood wall construction of a cottage from Building Green, and be sure to check out the website for the latest on creating your own green home.


3 Responses

    Gavin says:

    What an interesting post, Kristi. Now I can spend the rest of the afternoon daydreaming about building a new green home. Sigh.

    ... says:

    Amazing! I will be looking at my environment on my next hike in the woods with new eyes.

    Sharon Driscoll says:

    Wonderful, thoughtful post…

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