Nature has always served as inspiration for artists and with spring upon us, as forests once again come to life, we’re drawn to works that champion one of its most prolific occupants—trees. Artists and artisans working with salvaged and sustainably sourced wood are feeding our desire to connect with nature and incorporate meaningful, hand-hewn pieces into our spaces.
At 94 years old, American sculptor Thaddeus Mosley has been transforming salvaged trees into towering wooden sculptures since the 1950’s. Using native Pennsylvania walnut, cherry and sycamore reclaimed from the state’s forestry division and local sawmills, Mosley creates gargantuan pillars of logs perched so precariously they seem to defy gravity. Using only a chisel and mallet, he shapes each piece by hand whilst a soundtrack of jazz (think Art Blakey) wafts through his studio. Self-taught, Mosley began sculpting logs after discovering teak Scandinavian furniture at Pittsburgh’s legendary department store, Kaufmann’s—then owned by Edgar Kaufmann, for whom Frank Gehry designed Fallingwater. Around the same time, Mosley discovered African tribal art while taking a course on world culture at university. Drawing his own comparisons between those forms and the work of Giacometti, Brancusi, and Noguchi, Mosley’s aesthetic emerged and continues to influence generations. If travel restrictions lift and you find yourself near Washington, DC in the fall, be sure to visit the Baltimore Museum of Art for a solo exhibition of his work opening in October. It’s about an hour’s drive from the US capital.
University was also a transformative time for British designer and craftsman Sebastian Cox, whose passion for woodwork developed during a student visit to a Lincolnshire timber yard. Despite driving past acres of woodland, the yard was filled only with imported species. That experience spurred Cox to develop a furniture collection made from coppiced British wood—a renewable method of forestry that’s traditionally overlooked by industry for its small scale. Orders soon followed and his studio is now known for leading the way in sustainable woodwork. In addition to his own designs, Cox collaborates with interior designers and architects creating bespoke furniture and joinery with coppiced chestnut and hazel from his own woodland, or with larger varieties that are locally sourced, including trees felled on the clients’ property. For one such project in the Cotswolds, Cox is currently milling a 300-year-old beech tree knocked down by wind. The resulting furniture, including a dining table, desk and bedside tables, are truly rooted in the home’s landscape. “That’s one of the things that’s so magical about wood, if you can connect people to the tree or the landscape that it’s come from, and you make that connection through a piece of furniture that people can sit and dine at, that’s really powerful as a way of changing hearts and minds about big ecological issues,” he says. Last year the Crafts Council honoured his commitment to the British environment with a commission to create furniture for their permanent gallery. Do go and see it when the space finally opens (as yet still pending the pandemic).
On a smaller scale, London-based artisan Sophie Sellu crafts objects for the home including vases, brushes, spoons, and soon a new category of sculptures, also using reclaimed, sustainably sourced or naturally fallen timber. Each piece celebrates organic variation in wood, hence the brand’s name, Grain & Knot. In an effort to stay grounded in the creative process and enjoy a slower pace of life, Sellu releases her work in batches rather than crafting on demand. Available only through her website, pieces tend to sell out quickly so be sure to visit her site on 14 April, when the new collection will be released. And if you feel inspired to try your own hand at it, do what she did and take a woodworking course, or wait until her first book is released, hopefully late next year.
Environmentally-sound practices have arguably never been more important than they are today and there are too many talented artisans to name. But if you’d like to investigate further, we’d suggest exploring carved wood collections at The New Craftsmen and Flow Gallery in London, Matter in New York and March in San Francisco, all of whom sell online and ship internationally. Also in London, check out Gallery Fumi’s first exhibition of 2021— The Beautiful Grain—which opens on 22 April and will feature new pieces crafted in wood by eleven artists.
Photos © Karma; Sebastian Cox; Sophie Sellu