An Annotated Portfolio & Project Documentaries

Author Archive

Twenty-two. BIG SKY MAGAZINE article



Twenty-one. The ars poetica of tree art

There are many preliminaries and other indirect activities in the making of tree art.  I imagine that any poet (maker) knows, regardless of the particular poem (thing made), that it resulted from the complicated processes of poetry (making).  I like to think that the phrase ars poetica applies to both the making of my tree art, and to each individual piece I make.

For over twenty years, I’ve used pocket notebooks and clipboard tablets to record the process of making tree art–with descriptions, introspections, and philosophical reflections.  These voluminous scribbles and word processings might someday become a published book.

I started keeping design sketches and notes in this 3-ring binder in 1990. It has sections on: tree motifs and their possible uses; specific types of furniture–chairs, tables, beds,toteboxes, lamps, etc; workshop fixtures, templates, jigs, tools; and marketing ideas.

These are drawings of what I came to recognize as recurring "Lodgepole pine" (Pinus contorta var. latifolia) tree trunk shapes. They also became figuratively significant to me as runes--runic figures/characters in a forest calligraphy.

Twenty. The Creighton Block Gallery Collection

This is the first time I’ve had this many pieces of my tree art, eight in all, in a gallery collection.  Almost every piece I’ve made over the past twenty years has been privately collected as soon as it was finished.

The Creighton Block Gallery in Big Sky, Montana, is located in a commercial center near the ski area.  I very much appreciate that Colin Mathews and Paula Craver, the owners, have been enthusiastic hosts and promoters of my tree art.

 Here’s Colin trying out one of the chairs on the day I delivered them .  He wants me to give each of them a mythological name ….

 Trestle plank table and armchair with the “Egyptian Chest” in the background.

 The other end of the table with second chair, and “The Magic Mushroom Table” and “Pagan Dancer” in the background.

The chairs and table go well together although they may be sold separately.

“The Magic Mushroom Table” and “Pagan Dancer” are in the background.

“The Magic Mushroom Table” and the sculpture “Pagan Dancer”

“The Egyptian Chest” and table lamp.

I took a turn in the chair (I’d done that a few times before while making it) and Colin took the photo, which is now on my Facebook page.

Nineteen. Two ceremonial armchairs

A conversation of 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.

Eighteen. A Sculptural Pine Tree Biography

This little "Lodgepole" was found near Georgetown Lake, Montana. I must confess that it was alive when I came upon it. I admired it greatly and forced myself to walk away from it in search of other trees. Obviously I returned to it later, and in a heart-felt ceremony cut it and lifted in into my arms .... (The three photos in this post were taken by my gifted friend, Steve Hulse.)

This tree is in our home, a treasured piece of naturally grown sculpture. My time spent preparing it reinforced my admiration for what it had accomplished. I'm still living with a bit of guilt about taking it. In this photo, at the point of the first break in the tree coming out of the stone base, there is a round, cupped shape that I have never seen on any other tree. From there, upward, this little pine (about 30 inches tall in this photo) lived a truly tortuous (contorted) life. I consider its crooks, twists, and curls to be a heroic biography and figurative allegory.

According to Ed Ruppel, retired Montana State Geologist, the stone base is vessicular basalt from the Virginia City, Montana, lava field, 34 million years old. I thank my friend G. Karl Marcus for skillfully drilling the pilot hole in the stone.

Seventeen. The Magic Mushroom Table

Putting the finishing touches on "The Magic Mushroom Table"

In this studio photo, I’m applying the finishing touches to a table that took over 500 years to make.

The mushroom’s convex. umbonate cap and base are made of two burls sawn from an ancient Ponderosa pine.  The trunk of the tree was over five feet in diameter.  It was standing dead, and about to fall on a log home, in the mountains between Philipsburg and Georgetown Lake, Montana.  The stem is a section of a burled Lodgepole pine tree trunk from the same area.

The three pieces are joined to create the look of an organic, sculptural whole, as if the table grew into its mushroom shape.  I shaped a tenon at each end of the stem and inset them deeply into mortises cut into the base and cap.  Inserting the burled stem into the burled base required over a hundred tries to achieve a tight fit.  The joinery is reinforced with epoxy filler.

To make the mushroom functional as well as sculptural, I flattened the top of the cap and hollowed out two niches on opposite side of the rim.  (I imagine the table in use between two arm chairs, with a lamp or candle on top, and a wine glass in each niche).

The finish is two topcoats of satin polyurethane applied over two penetrating base coats of Watco Danish Oil.  Each coat revealed the complex swirls and natural colors of the burls’ flowing growth rings and woodgrains.

“The Magic Mushroom Table” weighs over 100 pounds, so I installed four furniture glides under the base.  The finished height is about 27″ and the oval-like diameters of the cap and base average 24 inches.

The table will be delivered to Creighton Block Gallery in Big Sky, Montana, this coming weekend, and be for sale as part of Colin’s and Paula’s gallery exhibition of five pieces of my tree art.

Sixteen. Miscellaneous tree art

This piece was used onstage as a prop for a live theater performance. It was part of an "underworld" scene. The actor climbed up on it (I was in the audience), and it held her up. The legs are each old Lodgpole tree trunks. The seat is a Lodgpole slab.view shows the end with the Douglas fir burled post closer to the camera. These two photos were taken shortly after the table was placed in the Creighton Block Gallery, downtown Virginia City, Montana. I documented the table making with a blog (35 posts and over 120 photographs). You can visit the blog at



Both the base and the post of this sculpture stand are of burled Lodgepole pine tree trunks. The top is a cross-cut section of Lodgepole cut after a standing dead tree was felled. The post is deeply inlaid into the base and also inlaid into the top.


The legs are all little (old), gnarly Lodgepole tree trunks. The top is upholstered with leather and tacks. A best friend commissioned this foot stool for his wife. It's now is use in the home in Truth Or Consequences, New Mexico.

Fifteen. Three lamps





all Lodgepole pine ... base is a crosscut section from the base of a standing dead tree ... the post is a naturally grown "swan's neck" tree trunk .... rawhide lampshade

Lodgepole pine burled post … rawhide shade …l

two Lodgepole pine tree trunks … rawhide shade …

Fourteen. Tree art toteboxes, shaving horse, tool caddy

These pieces, including the ones I’ve kept and used, are as much tree art to me as the commissioned pieces or those I’ve taken to market.

This is the first totebox I made, in 1990 as I remember. I used it for 20 years, and gave it to a good friend last year as a thank-you gift. It's all of Lodgepole, with a tree trunk handle, slab ends and sides. Like all of the toteboxes I've made, the handle is "captive" at each end, joined with round mortises and tenons. No metal fasteners, just dowels and glue.

I'm still using this totebox. The handle is tree trunk, a 100 year old Lodgepole, naturally grown into a dramatic "swan's neck" shape.

I made this totebox for myself, but a man who saw it wanted to buy it just a bit more than I wanted to keep it.

A shaving horse is essential to the makings of tree art. It makes it easy to clamp irregular shapes and quickly unclamp for repositioning. This horse was made for "show" and for portability, so it's smaller than the others I've made. Its design uses a naturally curved section of a Douglas fir tree trunk. The legs are inverted Lodgepole pine tree trunks, naturally forked. The seat and clamp table (leather covered) are Lodgepole. It, along with the tool caddy shown below, is still in use.

This combination of shaving horse and tool caddy were part of my set up when I did public demonstrations, downtown Virginia City. The caddy is made of a hollow Lodgepole section, with inverted Lodgepole forks for legs. Leather straps hold tools.section

Thirteen. Trestle plank dining/conference table

The table top is ten feet long, three feet wide, two inches thick. It is made of three planks--the center one is twenty-five inches wide. The top is removable from the base. Each post is burled, one of Lodgepole pine and the other of Douglas fir. The stretcher between the posts is a Lodgepole tree trunk, joined to the posts at each end with round mortise and tenon joints.

This view shows the end with the Douglas fir burled post closer to the camera. These two photos were taken shortly after the table was placed in the Creighton Block Gallery, downtown Virginia City, Montana. I documented the table making with a blog (35 posts and over 120 photographs). You can visit the blog at

Twelve. A master bamboo fly rod maker’s bed

This is a queen sized bed I made in the early 1990s, and which sold to a master split bamboo fly rod maker. At the time of the sale his wife told me that he very rarely had a desire to buy anything, especially a piece of furniture. This photo was taken just after the bed was made. All the components are either Lodgepole pine tree trunks or burled Douglas fir. The sides are connected to the headboard and footboard by handmade wood bolts and nuts. In this photo it is covered with a buffalo robe. The most important part of the bed's history (to date) is that the master's father, terminally ill, asked his son if he could die in it. His son said yes, and his father did.

Eleven. “Pagan Dancer”

"Pagan Dancer" is the title I gave to this sculpture because of the mix and movements of the shapes within it.

I named the sculpture “Pagan Dancer”, especially for the figures on the top. The kneeling human leg and hip, the reaching claw, the rising pair of horns combine into one totemic creature, poised in the stillness of an archetypal and pagan dance.  These individual figures/shapes emerged as I pruned, sawed, and rasped on a single piece of “witch’s broom,” a tangle of Lodgepole pine tree limbs.
I had originally intended to make it a functional tree art piece as a base for a table lamp. But as I discovered the human and non-human animal shapes, I sensed it potential to become part of a larger sculpture, an assemblage in which the tree pieces would evoke and symbolize pagan, i.e., pre-Christian motifs.
There is an upward and outward flow to the entire sculpture.  The four pedestal posts suggest sinuous roots rising in and from an underworld, connecting the floor base piece with the undulating, rippling edges of the floating plane and surface from which the dancing figures emerge.
“Pagan Dancer” is made entirely of Lodgepole pine, Pinus contorta var. latifolia, that I found in the forest.  The floor base and doubled plane under the dancing figure are slices cut from the trunk of a standing dead tree.  The pedestal posts are individual tree trunks.
The components were assembled with glued mortise and tenon joiner, dowels, and concealed wood screws.  Only hand-held, non-electric tools were used to shape and smooth the surfaces and edges.  The finish consists of many hand rubbed coats of paste wax, applied over a penetrating oil-based sealer.
I haven’t seen any piece of sculpture that compares with “Pagan Dancer.”  To me, it exudes an other-worldly “Presence” worth of a viewer’s contemplation.




Ten. A commissioned dining room set for Jackson Hole



The table is made entirely of Lodgepole pine. This photo more accurately shows the colors. The top is removable (if you look closely at the underside, you can see the connector notched into the diagonal support). The posts at each end are forked sections of a tree trunk. The extended feet are also tree trunks. The stretcher that connects the ends is a rare growth in which the tree did a complete turnaround to grow upright again.

This chair is at the head of the table, custom made for the man of the house. It uses a lot of burled pieces, a favorite furniture wood in the Jackson Hole, Wyoming area where is shown here in its owner's home.





Nine. Dining chairs



This is another chair from the same dining room set as the two shown below. The burled pieces are fire-killed Douglas fir. The seat is sculpted Lodgepole pine.

These chairs are two of a set of eight, made for a custom order that included a big dining table. I haven’t been able to find a photo of the finished set.

Eight. Guitar player’s chair & music stand

I made the music stand and chair for myself, but a good friend, also a guitar player loved the stand, so I gave it to her. Someone else wanted to buy the chair and did.   The two pieces combine Lodgepole pine and burled Douglas fir.  The fir pieces were fire-kiiled which gives them their rich coloring.  the color in the chair seat is because the tree was beetle-killed.

Seven. Dining table–flower motif

This table has a sunburst top made of eight Lodgepole pine slabs, tapered into the center. Each edge joint was "mate cut by hand, i.e., each saw stroke was cutting two "petals" simultaneously. The top is removable from the base. The three legs are naturally grown, fire-killed tree trunks--one of Lodgepole and two of Douglas fir.

The top has a circle of pine wood inlaid on top of the "petals," which is both a structural and design feature

Six. Selected tables

     Here’s a selection of photos, a small sampling of the many different kinds of tables I’ve made, excluding dining tables. 

This table is made from a section of "The Bee Tree"--a Ponderosa pine that was standing dead (after 500 plus years of life) and hollow, except for a huge colony of honey bees.

This sofa table combines a limb from "The Bee Tree" with a thick piece of glass. It is in the same room as the hollow Ponderosa round table also shown in this post.

A small coffee table with a complicated undercarriage. All the legs and bracings are naturally grown Lodgepole pine tree trunks, joined with dowels, round mortises and tenons, and glue.

The little table at the bottom of the stairs is made of Lodgepole pine--a thick, gnarly slab with four legs made of tree trunks. A thick glass top was cut to match the contours of the slab.

An oval hallway table of Lodgepole pine. The top is a single piece. The legs and bracings are all naturally grown tree trunks. The legs are turned upside down.

The petals in the top are each a colorful slab of Lodgepole pine, each hand cut to fit its mate on each side. It was made to be a display table at outdoor sports shows, so the top is detachable from the post.

Five. Kaiser House burled settee

This is one of the first tree art pieces I made after moving from Mill Valley, California, to Philipsburg, Montana, in 1989.  It was made for a newly restored, historic building on the main street of town, the Kaiser House, a restaurant at that time.
I found all the burled trees in a stand near Stewart Lake, miles above the town.  It was a small, but enchanted, mountainside.  These days I don’t work much with burls, so that makes pieces like this one special.  The seat and partial backrest are Lodgepole pine planks.  Most of the joinery is hand cut, round mortises and tenons.  The flattened burls on the backrest were quite comfortable.
It was sold years ago, but I still have fond memories of making it.

Four. Egyptian Chest

     This freestanding, long-legged, chest was inspired by a photograph of a piece in an ancient Egyptian furniture museum collection.  Perhaps the original was a pharoah’s treasure chest, intended to contain valuables he would need in the afterlife.  Even though I’ve been told that I have a container fetish, I didn’t make this chest with any particular use in mind.
     In addition to making a functional piece of furniture, I wanted to give the chest a sculptural appearance.  Using tree trunk root bases, I imagined the legs and flared feet as suggestive of animal legs, hooves or feet.  

     The box and sliding drawer are made of thin Douglas fir boards.  The legs are fire-killed Douglas fir tree trunks.  The leg braces are naturally bent Lodgepole pine tree trunks.  The box and lid handles are sliced Douglas fir burls.  The lid hinges were hand forged by my good friend and blacksmith, Jon Scott.  The box has a removable bottom, wrapped in suede leather. 

     The joinery includes mate-cut butt joints and rabbets corners, reinforced with dowels and glue.  All of the components are hand planed, scraped, and sanded.  The finish topcoat is a combination of Scandinavian tung oil and satin polyurethane.

Three. The Wizard’s Chair

The story of this chair’s name is part of a book-length manuscript I’ve been working on for the past 15 years, titled The Pagan Tree: A Wizard’s Apology.

The chair is made entirely of standing dead Rocky Mountain Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia), hunted and gathered in the Deerlodge National Forest near Philipsburg and Georgetwon Lake, Montana.

The seat and backrest are two pieces of slab wood cut from an unusually large tree.  The seat is joined to the backrest with hardwood dowels and glue. Both the seat and backrest were sculpted to accentuate the colorful swirls of grain and the knots.

The backrest was sawn out of a solid, tapered slab, and then sculpted with a carving hatchet, chisels, and rasps to its present shape.

The legs are a matched set of four small, yet old, tree trunks.  If you turned the chair upside down, you could count the growth rings in cross-section on the underside of the feet.  The shapes of the legs are natural, formed as the trees outgrew injury and harsh conditions in the forest.

The joinery includes round mortises and tenons, glued and wedged.  I didn’t use nails, screws, or other metal fasteners.  After many hours of sculpting and hand sanding, I brushed on three finish coats–one of Scandinavian tung oil and two of polyurethane varnish.

The seat and backrest have a special significance to me.  They were first assembled as a legless chair for me to sit on the ground in the tipi where I lived when I first moved to Virginia City in 1995.  The legs and undercarriage were added years later when I decided to create a more functional chair to exhibit in a local art gallery.

I was delighted when the chair was purchased by a wonderfully eccentric poet, a lover of children, a maker of musical instruments, and an awesome  inventor/scientist.  In one word, a wizard …!

Two. A Chaise for the Princess of Vikingsholm

     I’ve considered this as my “signature” piece for many years.  I think I made it in the early 1990s while living near Philipsburg, Montana.   It is made entirely of Lodgepole pine, mostly from the trunks of small, but old, trees that I found standing dead.  The slab seat and backrest are both cut from a large Lodgepole.  The spindles are forked branches.  The next photo shows it from behind with a buffalo robe as a cushion.  




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.