Nineteen. Two ceremonial armchairs
These two armchairs were designed for several possible uses together: with the plank and trestle dining/conference table; or on opposite sides of the magic mushroom table; or in an entryway or other hallway. That’s the way most of my tree art pieces begin, with a very basic decision to make a particular piece of furniture, in this instance to make a chair, rather than a bed, or a table, etc.
I had one Douglas fir plank that was long enough to make two seats and two backrests, so I decided to make them “plank chairs” to possibly go with the plank trestle table. Then the challenge was to select components for the arms and legs. This is when the process I call “design by experiment” began. I tried a number of different tree pieces that didn’t work and were set aside for possible future use in another piece.
In the designing and making of these chairs, there were basic structural requirements and dimensions to consider. Beyond those, the challenge was to select and combine naturally grown tree trunks into a functional and sculptural assemblage. With both the design and the making of these chairs I tried to embody a tree art esthetic, visually and kinesthetically, that evokes a ceremonial “presence,” to enhance dining, conversation, or contemplation.
I wanted the back legs of both chairs to extend higher than the backrests. Fitting these tall back legs was done by “mate-cutting” each of them to the edges of the backrest planks. The legs and backrests were then glued and dowelled together.
The four arms of both chairs and the curved supports underneath for the front legs are all made from matching Lodgepole pine, naturally grown, tree trunks. I like the balanced look of repeated shapes of the curved arms and braces.
This photo details the mate cut chair leg and backrest. After the joint cured, I “sculpted” the leg and backrest with rasps, files, and sandpapers, to create a curving and flowing design detail. “Flow,” whether of the tree’s growth rings, or of the tree trunk shape, or of my sculpted joinery, is an essential element of all my tree art designs.
This photo shows a number of different details, especially of the “treeness” of the chair and of the joinery. The armrest is joined to the back leg with a full size tenon set deeply into a matching mortise, glued, and reinforced with a wooden dowel . The armrest support is joined to the seat plank, to the back leg, and to the underside of the armrest by the use of several mated cuts.
Other design details in the chairs include burned scars, sapwood rubbing scars, worm tunnels, knots, and multiple natural colorings due to age, insects, and fire.
This view is of the underside of one of the chairs (the other chair is assembled and joined in essentially the same way, and with matching tree shapes.) The front legs are a single “trident fork” of a Lodgepole pine tree trunk, joined to the seat with a full mortise and tenon joint. For additional support I added the curved brace, which is also joined to the legs piece with a full mortise and tenon joint. Each of these joints is reinforced, either by concealed wood screws or wooden dowels.
In the making of these chairs, I was aware of both the amount of work, and the challenges of workmanship, that are involved in the many processes of finishing my tree art pieces. There is a lot of tedious, cosmetic detailing that only has to do with appearances, a matter of removing or concealing flaws, none of which have any effect on the strength and durability of the chairs.