That kind of damage usually renders a tree worthless, but Pasadena studio furniture maker William Stranger saw the possibility.
"To me it was crying out to be a lamp," he says.
The floor lamp Stranger has titled "Learn About Fire" is featured in the group exhibition and sale "Out of the Woods," now through Oct. 26 at Gallery Neuartig in San Pedro. Also featured is a mix of handmade one-of-a-kind furniture and fine art by masters in their field -- Eric Johnson, Stephen Courtney and Harold Greene, as well as Stranger -- with the hope of engaging gallery goers to consider what defines art.
"It's a big question," says gallery owner Beate Kirmse, who has organized a panel discussion-barbecue on the subject with the featured craftsmen from 2 to 5 p.m. Sept. 30. "But where are the boundaries, and where do they overlap between furniture, craft and fine art?"
For Stranger, art is ingrained in the design and fabrication of the piece.
"The art comes in when you visualize something in your head or you come across a piece of raw material that inspires you," he says, speaking by phone from his Pasadena studio. "It's all about being open to that creative urge and that quiet voice that speaks to you. Sometimes it speaks to you from a piece of wood … and it's very difficult for me to resist."
Rather than changing the nature of the dead olive tree that was salvaged and given to him by Art from the Ashes, a nonprofit organization that supports communities devastated by natural disaster through the creation of art, he decided to manipulate it as little as possible.
But even not changing the appearance required work before it could be shown in a gallery or furnish someone's living room.
He removed the loose burned material with a variety of tools, starting with wire brushes and graduating to bristle brushes. He then gave it a thorough cleaning with rags before finishing it with wax.
A pair of wood veneer lampshades now hang from the branches like fruit.
Use of trees that would otherwise be chipped, cut into firewood or thrown away is also seen in a large coffee table made specifically for the exhibition by Greene, a San Pedro furniture maker.
He completed it just a few days before the show's Sept. 1 opening.
The coffee table was made from a half-century-old carob tree uprooted from the streets of San Pedro because it had grown to be a nuisance, tearing up sidewalks and streets.
"People know I'm interested in acquiring local trees so I'll get calls at really odd times," Greene says. "They'll say, `They're cutting a tree down. Hurry up before they cut it into firewood.'
"A lot of times I don't make it in time but recently I got to a sycamore tree in my neighborhood that I've been admiring for almost 20 years," he says. "It grew too close to the house and was causing some damage to the foundation so they had it removed. Happens a lot."
One tree is too much wood for a single furniture maker. It may yield as much as 1,000 board feet - 1 board foot is equal to 1 foot by 1 foot by 1 inch. And so Greene calls in a network of woodworkers.
Together, they divide up the tree and share the expense of having the log milled either on the spot or hauled away to a lumberyard for cutting to their specifications.
Like Stranger, Greene can visualize what's going to come out of a tree or log just by looking at it.
In designing the coffee table, for instance, he had the carob trunk (which had been air dried in his backyard for six years) divided in two, creating a mirror image effect for the surface that reveals the shape, imperfections and natural red marbling of the wood.
"As it ages, the color will go from this beautiful red color to an even more vivid, rich color like this," he says, pointing to a burgundy-colored circle pattern on an upholstered piece in the exhibition.
In addition, the source of the tree adds to the appeal.
"I can point to an actual location … and provide the information as to why it was cut down and how it was decided what would be made from that wood," he says. "You can even estimate when the trees were planted."
Using a slice of 800- to 1,000-year-old spruce given to him by a former neighbor, he created "Worm Hole," a freestanding sculpture marked with decorative carvings that doubles as a table with the addition of a base.
The design is based on wormholes in outer space in which things go into one hole and come out of another.
He drilled an irregular hole near the center of the slab and another two half-holes at the top and bottom, creating a diagonal. With a chain saw and smaller tools, he chipped away at the surface, creating oblong shapes around the punched-out holes.
"It looks like I chiseled out the shapes but I'd still be chiseling right now," he says, with a chuckle. "I wanted to have the effect of flowing out or flowing into each of the holes."
On the back, the holes are connected by a carved channel.
"People have been really drawn to this piece," Greene says. "I'm really pleased people like it because for this show I wanted to show I'm more than a furniture maker. Because I am more."
Out of the WoodsWhat: Emerging ideas in design and fine art.
When: Noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and by appointment, as well as 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 4 during First Thursday Artwalk.
Where: Gallery Neuartig, 366 W. Seventh St., San Pedro.
Information: 213-973-8223 or www.galleryneuartig.com.
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