An Annotated Portfolio & Project Documentaries

One. C. Jack Waller, Jr. — My Tree Art Portfolio

This website presents a documentary of my tree art in an online portfolio, with a collection of photos and text illustrating my work as a tree artist over the past twenty years.  The photo above shows me at work in a demonstration setting, downtown Virginia City, at work on my shaving horse with a tool caddy at my side and some “wigglies” in the background.  It’s a favorite, and definitive, portrait and I thank Marge Antolik for taking it.

This is my recently revised (March 8, 2011) Artist’s Statement:

I’ve worked with architectural design, construction, and furniture making since the late 1960s, when I also made my first rustic furniture of California’s north coast driftwood.
In 1989 I moved to southwest Montana, to live a life of creative and contemplative poverty, centered around daily practices of writing, music, and tree art.  In a word, I chose to be a poet (etymologically, a “maker”), whose poetry (“makings”) includes a tribute to some remarkable trees.

Tree art begins with the extraordinary, usually standing dead, trees I find in my surrounding forests.  As a hunter–gatherer of trees, I’m especially fascinated with contorted lodgepole pine–Pinus contorta var. latifolia.  These pines grow into gracefully deformed shapes as they overcome injury caused by crowded and harsh conditions: dense stands and shaded slopes;  burdens of gravity, the weight of fallen peers in a jackstraw pile, and of drifted snow;  blasts of icy, wintry winds.  I don’t know of another tree species with trunk shapes naturally grown in such a variety of curvilinear twists, curls, forks, and crooks.  Curiously, the common name of “lodgepole” suggests only the straight, narrow, supple poles of the Indian tipi, while the scientific name, Pinus contorta, perfectly describes the trees I work with.

I call myself a treeworker, not a woodworker, because I prefer to work with the original tree shapes rather than a tree processed into wood, i.e., dimensioned lumber.  I work mostly with hand-held tools, which is a very different process than delivering lumber to stationary machines that do most of the work.  Treeworking is essentially slow, quiet, thoughtful, very experimental with a great deal of trial and error.  The making of each piece proceeds, almost ceremonially, using primitive/contemporary tools and skills to achieve sculptural effects.

The challenges of making tree art are to find, select, combine, join, and assemble naturally grown tree shapes into an artifact of my own design and making.  This is not “Art, as opposed to Nature”, as art is often defined, but a thoughtful collaboration of artist/poet with Nature.  In each piece, I attempt to honor and enhance both the physical and figurative character of each component tree–including what I consider to be its life story, in fact, its autobiography.

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