Tree Artist’s Statement
C. JACK WALLER, Jr.
Montana Tree Art—Furniture, Sculpture, Architectural Detail
I’ve worked with architectural design, carpentry, traditional woodworking, and furniture making since the 1960s, when I also made my first rustic furniture of California’s north coast driftwood. In 1989, I moved to Montana to seek a “right livelihood” as a tree artist, and to pursue other daily practices of creative writing and playing folk music on guitar and harmonica.
Tree art begins in the surrounding forests where I search for and gather the extraordinary, usually standing dead, trees. I’m especially fascinated with contorted lodgepole pines (Pinus contorta var. latifolia). These pines grow into gracefully deformed shapes as they overcome injury caused by tree-crowded and shaded slopes, the weight of fallen peers, the snowy winds and drifts of our long winters.
I don’t know of another tree species whose trunk grows so eccentrically to regain uprightness, straightness, and it original center of gravity. Curiously, its common name of “lodgepole” suggests only the straight, narrow, supple poles of the Indian tipi, while its scientific name of Pinus contorta perfectly describes the trees I use in the making of tree art.
I think of myself as a treeworker, not a woodworker, because I prefer to work with the original tree rather than processed wood. I work mostly with hand-held tools, a very different process than delivering lumber to stationary machines that do most of the work.
Treeworking is slow, quiet, thoughtful, and very experimental. The making of each piece proceeds, sometimes ceremonially, using both traditional and innovative woodworking/sculpting tools and techniques.
My tree art designs are influenced by the rustic traditions of ancient China, the Adirondacks, and the Rocky Mountains. I’ve also been inspired by the flowing lines and shapes of calligraphy and art noveau.
The challenge of making tree art is to select individual trees and combine their natural shapes into a sculptural assemblage of my own design and making. For functional pieces the challenges include adapting the tree shapes to the structural requirements of the particular form and function, for example, of a chair.
This is not “Art as opposed to Nature,” as art is often defined, but my careful collaboration with Nature. In each piece, I attempt to preserve and enhance the trees’ character, both their physical accomplishments and their figurative, symbolic significance as a life story and allegory.