Monthly archives: August, 2015

Picture This: Ex-Cons Reclaim Urban Wood and Their Lives

urban-ashes-picture-framesUrban Ashes of Ann Arbor, MI, is giving diseased trees and disrupted lives a second chance.

The company specializes in the manufacture picture frames from reclaimed wood from the urban forest trees infested by the emerald ash borer and deconstructed buildings. Urban Ashes’ phenomenal growth is evidenced by the more the more than 200 stores in 40 states that now sell its custom frames, according to a report by the MLive.

The newspaper’s feature on Urban Ashes and its owner Paul Hickman focuses on the role former prison inmates are playing in the company’s success.

“The people part of our story now are even more important to me than the wood is,” Hickman told MLive. “Both were once often considered and discarded as waste. Now both are combining to create an unrivaled story and collection of Michigan-made goods.”

Read the article and view the slide show.



Trees Downed in 2012 Storm Crafted into Stand for Local Bell

Urban wood bell stand

The red oak and black walnut bell stand, now a permanent part of the West Chicago City Museum’s collection, is surrounded from left to right by Tom Tawney, Lorenzo Covarrubias, Fernando Ramirez, Jeff Perkis, Mayor Ruben Pineda and Sara Phalen.

West Chicago, Illinois: August 28, 2015 Downed trees from the storm that hit Reed-Keppler Park in West Chicago on July 1, 2012 continue to give back to the community more than three years later through the talents of architect, woodworker and former resident Jeff Perkis.

The City of West Chicago commissioned Perkis to create a lasting legacy that celebrates the heritage and culture of many of its residents It will play a major role in the upcoming Mexican Independence Day Parade and Celebration, to be held downtown on Sunday, September 13, 2015.

A four-foot tall, solid red oak bell stand with walnut accents, sturdy enough to hold the approximately 80-pound train bell, which has been at the center of the spirited historical re-enactment of El Grito de la Independencia or the Cry of Independence, was built with the repurposed wood that Perkis and his uncle, Ron Myers, milled a couple of months after the storm.

As a member of the Illinois Wood Utilization Team (WUT), as well as a member of the Chicago Furniture Design Association (CFDA), Perkis is a specialist in sustainable design utilizing urban wood. He created Out of the Woods after the storm hit and worked with architecture students and Associate Professor Paul Pettigrew at the Illinois Institute of Technology to design and fabricate various pieces of extraordinary works of art.

Perkis became aware of the need for the bell stand following an introduction to West Chicago resident, Tom Tawney, who also has strong ties to the community. Tawney’s father-in-law, Lorenzo Covarrubias, emigrated from Mexico in 1957 as one of the first Mexican families to settle in West Chicago. He holds the distinction of being West Chicago’s Patron de la Campana, or Patron of the Bell, and has offered the use of his bell for West Chicago’s El Grito for the past 23-years. However, over the years, its makeshift stand was worn and in need of replacement.

The two men agreed to work together on a design, and the City agreed to underwrite the cost of the labor and materials to build a new stand.  From a design standpoint, the decision was made to replicate some of the styles already existing within the community, particularly the Arts and Crafts style of many of the homes in the area. Perkis also referenced work done by architect brothers Greene and Greene, and ended up translating elements of these designs into his own. His fine craftsmanship and woodworking skills produced a stand that is strikingly beautiful and worthy of the momentous historic event that it celebrates.

The project has come to have great significance for Perkis, and he became introspective recently about its meaning for him. “I grew up playing baseball, football and soccer at Reed-Keppler Park. I spent a large part of my childhood in that Park”.

He continues to wonder from which exact tree this wood may have come, and if he had seen it in the Park before? “I found myself reminiscing about many childhood memories. I felt, and still do feel, very proud that I was able to give this wood, from such a devastating event, a chance to continue to be enjoyed by the community. I am happy that not all the wood from that storm was turned into firewood or mulch, and I hope this will help others to see that there is opportunity for a higher use of wood from our own backyards.”

Perkis presented the new bell stand to the West Chicago City Museum on Wednesday, August 26, 2015, surrounded by fellow residents Tom Tawney and Lorenzo Covarrubias, Mayor Ruben Pineda, Museum Director Sara Phalen and Mexican Cultural Center DuPage’s President and event organizer, Fernando Ramirez. Perkis plans on using some of the saw dust and wood chips he collected from the project to make paper on which he will print the details of the stand’s creation so that it will “tell its story” for future generations. The stand will become part of the City’s permanent collection and remain at the Museum when it is not being used at the City event.



Editor’s Note: Urban Wood Conference Details Coming Soon

Editor’s Note: Welcome to the second edition of the Illinois Urban Wood Update. We’re excited to bring you the latest news and notes about Illinois’ burgeoning urban wood marketplace.

We hope you read and enjoy this month’s stories, including about how a Chicago area architect and custom woodworker crafted a display stand for a historic bell from a red oak tree salvaged from a savage storm in West Chicago.

We need and want to report on more of these types of success stories. So send us yours to info@illinoisurbanwood.org.

Come Get Involved! September 1 Team Meeting
The Illinois Wood Utilization Team will meet 10:00 a.m. to Noon, Tuesday, September 1 at the Horner Park Fieldhouse, 2741 W. Montrose Ave, Chicago.

Agenda items include:

Updates on the Bringing the Urban Forest Full Circle Conference being planned for March 2016 (Date and location to be announced soon!)

Upcoming Chicago Furniture Designers Association Show

Urban wood projects by students of the Architecture & Furniture course at the Illinois Institute of Technology

Discussion about FSC certification for urban wood harvested from forest preserve districts

Update on the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center’s wood fuel project

Highlights of the Chicago Park District’s urban wood programs and a tour of Horner Park’s wood shop

All interested urban wood stakeholders are welcome. Please RSVP by contacting Mathew Baxley at baxley2@illinois.edu.

Those that cannot physically attend the meeting are invited to participate via a conference call at 888-585-9008. Use passcode 541 462 192.

If we don’t see you, we at least hope to hear you at the September 1 meeting!



Video: Dead Ash Tree Is Chainsaw Artist’s Medium

urban wood sculptorSculptor Jim Long is just one of many who have begun to see the potential of urban wood in the Chicago area. WGN9 News recently reported on Long’s dedication for creating art out of this valuable community resource. For one of his most recent projects, Long brought his chainsaw and a ladder to Nichols Park in Chicago’s Hyde Park area. There he got busy sculpting an ash tree killed by the emerald ash borer into a howling wolf. Check out the video and accompanying article on the WGNtv site..



Historic Bell Tolls for Urban Wood Display

By Rich Christianson

It’s only appropriate that Jeff Perkis’ first commissioned custom woodworking project was made with urban wood salvaged from a vicious July 2012 storm that severely crippled nearly 200 old-growth trees in Reed Kepler Park of West Chicago, IL.

Perkis used red oak milled from one of the downed trees to create a display stand for a historic train bell. It will become a permanent exhibit at the West Chicago City Museum.

A graduate of the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), Perkis is an architect by trade but has taken up woodworking in a basement shop of his home in Wheaton. “The thing that happened at Reed Keppler Park and all of the trees that were storm damaged really kind of pulled me into urban wood and that’s become my woodworking niche,” Perkis said. “We were able to reclaim a lot of this urban wood for a higher purpose instead of seeing it turned into firewood or mulch.”

Perkis was commissioned by West Chicago to design and fabricate the stand for the brass bell owned by Lorenzo Coverarrulias, a long-time resident of West Chicago. Coverarrulias grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico near the Southern Pacific rail yard. The sound of train bells has always been like music to his ears. He purchased the 80-pound, 1-foot diameter bell from a Lombard salvage yard in in the early 1960s.

Trains and train bells also reserve a special place in West Chicago’s heritage. The town was once called Turner Junction among others and home to a large switching yard in serving as a major hub for freight trains that came in and out of Chicago.

Coverallulias’ bell has been displayed at West Chicago’s annual Railroad Days festival several times over the years. “In the past they either rented stands or just used makeshift 2x4s to display it,” Perkis said. “For a while they have wanted a stand built for it. Knowing that there was a log of wood available from the storm, it just seemed like a good idea that the stand be built from that wood and that the bell would be kept at the museum in West Chicago.”

Arts and Crafts’ Inspired
Perkis designed the 4-foot-wide by 4-foot-eight-inch-high stand in an arts and crafts style. “I tried to take some cues from some of the historical buildings of West Chicago. I also drew inspiration from the famous architect firm Greene & Green who were big in the arts and crafts movement around the turn of the last century.”

Perkis said red oak was a good match for the project. “Red oak is a beautiful, sturdy wood and is a favorite among furniture makers. It has a great smell when working with it,” he said. Perkis added black walnut accents to the stand. The display was expertly finished by Ken Wier, owner of i2i Design of Wood Dale. i2i specializes in the manufacture of custom furniture made with urban wood.

Both the red oak and black walnut lumber was milled by Perkis’ uncle Ron Meyers, owner of Meyers Woodworking & Lumber of Batavia. (Meyers Woodworks is among dozens of custom sawmills included in the Illinois Small Sawmill directory.)

Meyers also supplied lumber salvaged from the savage storm to the ITT Technology Architecture & Furniture course taught by Associate Professor Paul Pettigrew. Perkis, who helped instruct some of those classes, estimated that some 200 objects have been made from the reclaimed urban wood over the last three years.

“I grew up playing baseball, football and soccer at Reed Keppler Park,” Perkis said. “When I was working on the stand, I found myself wondering which tree exactly this wood may have come from. I felt and still do feel very proud that I was able to give this wood from such a devastating event a chance to continue to be enjoyed by the community. I hope this will help others see that there is an opportunity for a higher use of wood from our own backyards.”

Read related press release.



IIT Student Urban Wood Works at Aug. 26 Showing

urban wood, IIT

A student of the IIT Architecture & Furniture course discusses her urban wood project in an interview with Out of the Loop.

One-of-a-kind Furniture and functional objects fabricated from urban wood by students at the Illinois Institute of Technology will be undergo expert review 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 26 at S.R. Crown Hall on the IIT campus.

Guest architects and furniture makers will conduct the review which concludes the summer session of IIT’s popular Architecture & Furniture course taught by Paul Pettigrew, studio associate professor at IIT. Pettigrew said the exhibition will feature some 14 “thought-provoking and creative projects utilizing the urban wood provided to us this summer” by the Illinois Wood Utilization Team.

Students of the summer Architecture & Furniture course took their concepts from sketches, drawings and digital models through physical models, full-scale mock-ups and completed prototypes. The students’ conversions of urban wood lumber into finished projects was featured last month on Out of the Loop, an online radio affiliate of WGN.

Crown Hall is located at 3360 S. State Street in Chicago. For more information, contact Pettigrew at Pettigrew@iit.edu.