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Award-Winning Book Celebrates Chicago Tree Project

Chicago-area Sculptor Margot McMahon, whose works with urban wood were featured here in a January post, is also the author of “The Fifth Season: The Chicago Tree Project.” The book won first place in the annual state-wide Mate E. Palmer Professional Communications Contest. McMahon’s salute to public tree art qualifies for judging in the NFPW national contest.

The book showcases 50 dead trees sculpted by 30 renown artists – including the author – gracing dozens of Chicago Park District parks.

From McMahon’s website: “The first section of the book is an explanation of the importance of keeping condemned trees in urban nature. The second section is poetry of the vital life within a dying tree including feeding birds, creating burrows for animals and interactions with the grove of like trees. The third section is a service workshop to care for the park and parkway saplings.”

The book, published by Lambert Academic Publishing, is available on Amazon

McMahon was recognized by the Illinois Woman’s Press Association with the 2019 Mate E. Palmer First Place Public Service Award for her contributions to the Chicago Tree Project. Learn more at thechicagotreeproject.org.



Chicago Tree Project Continues to Transform Dead Trees into Sculptures

As much as we like to see urban trees reclaimed as lumber and furniture, sometimes the best use of a dying or dead tree is a second life as art.

Chicago Sculpture International (CSI) and the Chicago Park District (CPD), teamed up for “Chicago Tree Project 2017,” the fourth annual citywide effort to transform sick and dying trees into vibrant public art. Using art as a vessel for public engagement, sculptors transformed a variety of trees into fun and whimsical experiences for the greater Chicago community. The collaborative project between CSI artists and CPD and is part of the greater initiative to expand the reach of public art in Chicago.

“The Chicago Park District strives to integrate art and nature in many ways to enhance the experience of public spaces,” said General Superintendent and Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Park District Michael P. Kelly. “This project builds on the city’s reputation for great public art, and brings the work of local sculptors to a wide array of neighborhoods throughout the city.”

Over the course of the summer and fall, artists adopted trees throughout Chicago and modified them through sculpture using traditional carving methods, as well as mixed media and other embellishments. The transformed trees are in geographically diverse areas to give as many residents as possible access to the pieces.

The decorated and carved trees will remain in the parks as long as the trees remain secure.

2017 Tree Artists included: JR Cadawas, Janet Austin, Sandra Bacon & John Hatlestad, Carrie Fischer, Nick Goettling, Tracy Ostmann Haschke, Anthony Heinz May, Cat Chiu Phillips, and Actual Size Artworks (Gail Simpson & Artistotle Georgiades).

Learn more about the Chicago Tree Project and view more sculptures.

 



Slideshow: Chicago Park District’s Wintery Milling Project

 
The Chicago Park District’s (CPD) Department of Cultural and Natural Resources team recently initiated lumber milling at West Ridge Natural Area, 5800 N. Western Ave.
 
Gerry Hamm, owner of GH Hamm Woodworking & Sawmill, of Mundelein, IL, was contacted by Mike Dimitroff, manager of Art Initiatives, and Matt Freer, director of Natural Resources Natural Areas, to mill CPD trees infested with the emerald ash borer and downed logs at West Ridge. 
 
Dimitroff was joined by project manager Isaiah Ballinger and team members Alex Loepke, Krzysztof Makowski and Tyrone Murdo, to assist in the project.
 
The milling operation involved loading park district logs, which were cut and transported by CPD Forestry, under the direction of Mike Brown, to the West Ridge site. There, the logs were loaded onto the Hamm’s mill and sawed into full-length 3-inch-thick, live-edge slabs.
 
The slabs will be open-air cured, then cut to length and used as bench stock material. The new benches will be incorporated into CPD natural areas, like Big Marsh and Hegwish as well as other parks and natural areas’ settings.
 
According to Dimitroff, “This initiative demonstrates one aspect of a great, multi-team effort in continuing our DCNR sustainability mindset.”
 


New Sculptures Breathe Fresh Life into Four Dying Trees

The sixth annual Chicago Tree Project, a collaboration of the Chicago Park District and Chicago Sculpture International (CSI), yielded four new tree sculptures gracing Chicago public parks in 2019.

The Chicago Tree Project was started in 2014 when the Chicago Park District was faced with the question of what to do with thousands of trees that had been infected with the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive insect encouraged by climate change that has been destroying millions of trees in North America for the last ten years.  The Park District approached Chicago Sculpture International (CSI), and together they created a program that would give some of these sick and dying trees a second life as a work of vibrant public art.

Over the years, artists have addressed the trees in a variety of methods, with traditional carving and various media that have been integrated into the trees.  The resulting tree sculptures have been wide ranging in subject matter as well, addressing scientific, spiritual and environmental themes.  These sculptures offer unique and often unexpected encounters for visitors to Chicago parks.  As long as they remain secure, the transformed trees remain standing. Seven of the tree sculptures have been de-installed in the interest of public safety.

Here’s a look at the newest Chicago Tree Project artworks.

Irene Hoppenberg
Lemon Tree
Lincoln Park
“My tree sculpture in Chicago is part of a series of various lemon trees which I have realized in the past. Lemons have a special meaning for me. I live in a northern country (Germany), and there, lemons are a symbol for the longing for the south, the sun and the light. My lemon tree in Lincoln Park is close to North Avenue each. This proximity to the beach provides a southern flair in summer and will remind people in winter of the coming spring.

“I hope that my tree sculpture brings joy to visitors to Lincoln Park but also serves as a visual comment how climate change could influence the natural environment and change its vegetation. The future of all living beings is the responsibility of each individual human and is defined by his actions.”

Anthony Heinz May
La Gioconda
Columbus Park
“Wisps of cubed block chains from woody material of a rotted and dying ash tree are reminiscent of singular human hair strands that might otherwise signify a frazzled, sick or unhealthy condition. The parody provides a dying aesthetic as found within ash trees, where what was once considered beautiful has succumbed to a slow death by infestation of the emerald ash borer. This sculpture simultaneously allows for death and demise of natural aestheticism while claiming a wholly human constructed one. In continuing direct blasphemy of Leonardo Da Vinci and his masterpiece (the Mona Lisa, otherwise known as La Gioconda), which is constantly appropriated for advertising and constant reinvention by modern lore for materialism—this sculpture from a dying tree is yet another example of conceptual theft of Da Vinci in title.”

Jonathan Schork
Thalidomide #12
Midway Plaisance Park
“Following up on tree-carving work I did in the Florida Keys during the ‘90s & ‘00s (partly inspired by the Ewing book, “The Body,” I was interested in creating the latest in a series called Thalidomide, this one number 12 in the series. The trunk and major branches are reduced to create a hand with fingers that have the appearance of a limb influenced by the pregnancy drug thalidomide, the concept being two-fold: 1. by questioning subjective notions of the beautiful and the grotesque, thereby destigmatizing anatomical deformities & amputations with a sculpture that celebrates unconventional morphology; and, 2. to continue to draw attention to the deleterious biological effects of drugs, toxins, and environmental pollutants on humanity, and especially on children and the poor.”

Susanne Ruoff
The Second Skin
Shedd Park
“A tree has died. It has lost all its leaves. With the project The Second Skin, it gets new leaves that cover and protect the old trunk.  The new leaves are cut from wood planks. This wood, too, has once been part of a living tree. Together with the dead tree, they create something new, something that hasn’t been there before.”

 

Visit the Chicago Tree Project’s website.

CSI Sets March 6 Deadline for 2020 Proposals
Chicago Sculpture International, in collaboration with the Chicago Park District, is seeking experienced artists and artist teams to give dying trees in Chicago parks new life. This RFP seeks an experienced artist (or artist team) to turn the tree into a sculpture:  beautiful, original, unique works of art that will become a distinguishing feature in the neighborhood. The approach can be additive and/or subtractive. The trees will be approximately 16-30 ft. tall and may include main side branches.

Artists will be paid a stipend of $3,500 upon completion of the tree sculpture.

Learn more about CSI’s Chicago Tree Project submission guidelines.

 



How Frank Lloyd Wright Home Trees Became Furniture

 

By Steve Skorup

As an architecture teacher for 25 years at a suburban high school I would take my class to tour the Frank Lloyd Wright house and studio in Oak Park and a Habitat for Humanity home each year.

I wanted my students to be familiar with one of the world’s most famous architects and also to know where his career and the Prairie Style design developed. We visited the HFH site so they could also see affordable housing and how it meets client’s needs. In 2015 while at the FLW house I noticed an American Elm tree in front of the house had the “white dot of death” on it, meaning it was diseased and about to be removed.  I talked to the grounds care taker and he said it was the city’s responsibility since it was in the parkway.

Oak Park is a Tree City and keeps track of all its tree removals, replacements, and maintenance. I called city hall and explained about urban logging and about a higher usage of this resource. The person I spoke to said that Oak Park subcontracted large tree removal. I called the tree removal company and he said they would be removing the tree and selling it to a company that makes contractor construction planking. I explained to him what I do and where the tree was being harvested from and he said his father was a big FLW fan. I said that I would make a table for his father and his company if I could get the log. He agreed and we arranged a drop off. My partner at the time was Brandon Dobnick of Dobnick Timberworks and we had Wade Ellis of West Chicago to mill the tree into 2-1/2” thick live edge planks. These planks ranged in size from 4’ to 12’ long and 16”- 30+” wide.

After the milling and drying process was completed I was able to make the tables for the contractor, a table that took 1st place at the Sandwich County Fair, and several other tables and projects. I have the rest of the planks air drying in storage.

In 2018 I was contacted by the tree removal company and told that the next tree over from the initial tree at the FLW Home had also contracted Dutch Elm disease and would be removed. Would I be interested in it as well? Needless to say, I said yes and had those logs delivered. After sawing they will begin the air-drying process.

As an architecture teacher and a fan of FLW myself I thought others may be interested in furniture made from these historic trees. I just completed a kitchen remodel for a client friend and fellow FLW fan who had me make a live edge wine bar top and serving board for his new kitchen.

I was able to go into the FLW archives and find a picture from 1975 of the Home and Studio with the tree out front. I was unable to find any earlier pictures, but by counting the rings I figured the tree to be about 70-80 years old, so it was probably planted in the 1940s.  FLW left the home around 1909 and died in 1959 and so probably had no history with the tree. The Wright family sold the home in 1925.

I documented the removal, milling, and product construction of these items so future clients will have record of their history. I call my furniture made from specific client’s trees Heritage Furniture made from Legacy Logs and this project certainly fits that criteria. I hope this furniture with keep this valuable resource enjoyable for future generations.

Contact Skorup at sawinc.skorup@gmail.com.

Read related article about Skorup: Making the Transition from Teaching to Running an Urban Wood Business

 

 

 



Chicagoans ‘Import’ Live Edge Walnut Table from KC

Editor’s Note: Many thanks to our friend Tom “The Sawyer” Hogard for putting us in contact with one of his clients – John Stefanchik. John and his wife Jen, both formerly of Chicago, operate Custom Furniture KC in Gardner, KS. 

According to the Custom Furniture KC website, the couple “left our jobs in the busy corporate world looking for something that allowed us to slow down, work together and create environmentally conscious yet stylish products that bring warm to people’s lives.” To wit, working with urban wood, the Stefanchiks have found it “incredibly fulfilling … to give new life to a tree that would otherwise have been destroyed and see it used every day in a way that enhances the owner’s life.”

The Custom Furniture KC website includes a projects channel. John Stefanchik was kind enough to allow us to re-post one of them concerning a live edge walnut table gracing the home of friends in Chicago. John and Jen also previously lived for 20 years in Chicago. “I still consider myself a Chicagoan despite having lived in Kansas for the last seven years,” John says.   

Here is a stripped down version of the step-by-step post that features 17 photos illustrating the project from milling through fabrication and final product. You can read the real deal by clicking here

Some friends of ours from Chicago wanted a walnut dining table and bench for their city home.  We sourced the wood for this project from two different locations.  The wood for the table came from the University of Kansas; taken down as part of a construction project a few years ago.  The wood for the bench came from a tree that was standing dead on a farm south of Kansas City in December of 2015,

The wood for the table was originally milled with two live edges on each board so the first step was the remove one of the edges and then plane each board to uniform thickness.  The top will consist of three separate pieces.

From there the table pieces needed to be joined together and we chose to use some floating tenon joints to add stability to the glue-up.  The table was smoothed and all of the cracks and knots were epoxied to provide stability and enhance their character.

The bench came from a single board, but in order to enhance eye-appeal and ensure long-term durability the board was cut into 4 individual pieces, planed to uniform thickness and glued together.

Once the tops were assembled, we sanded, finished and installed the legs.  The end product is a striking live-edge table with a modern flare, custom built to fit their unique space.

Visit Custom Furniture KC’s website.

 

 

 

 

 



Dead Ash Trees Come to Life in Chainsaw Sculptures

 



ARTS INITIATIVE PAYS HOMAGE TO CHICAGO PARK DISTRICT TREES

Artist Janet Austin captures ‘The A”maze”ing Larvae of the Emerald Ash Borer’ in her sculpture at Palmer Square Park.

Through special arrangement with Chicago Sculpture International, more than two dozen dead or dying trees, have been transformed into works of art on Chicago Park District land throughout the city during the last four years.

The 2017 collection of tree sculptures includes the “A”maze”ing Larvae of the Emerald Ash Borer,’ a creative look at the pest and the path it created boring into the tree it ultimately killed.
Check out the story in this month’s Illinois Urban Wood Update and then visit the Chicago Tree Project website to view all of the creations and the park that each one graces.
Also, this month, watch the third episode of Wood-Mizer’s Urban Sawmilling Series. This video features the owners of Van Urban Timber in Vancouver, BC.

I was happy to receive a call from a writer for Tree Services magazine for information about the urban wood movement. I was delighted to oblige with discussing the Illinois Wood Utilization Team’s mission to putting felled and fallen urban trees to their best and highest valued use. A link to the article is included.

If you haven’t already done so, I urge you to check out the invitation to join the Urban Wood Network. Free membership is being offered until June.
Keep me in mind if you have a story, photo or comment to share about your involvement in the urban wood movement.
Until next time,
Rich Christianson
Communications Director
Illinois Wood Utilization Team
info@illinoisurbanwood.org


Cook County Forest Preserves’ Tree Repurposed for Unique Award Plaques

By Cherie LeBlanc Fisher

In July 2017, Chicago Wilderness presented its first-ever Force of Nature Awards to 10 people and organizations doing outstanding work on behalf of the environment across the region. The physical awards given to the recipients were as unique and special as the awardees themselves and a remarkable example of wood reutilization.

Each award plaque is a large “tree cookie” with the bark left around the outer edge. The tree came from a Forest Preserves of Cook County site.

Forest Preserves of Cook County sign shop foreman Roy McNaughton designed and created them by hand. Each is about the size of  a large dinner plate: roughly 12 inches in diameter and approximately 1.5 inches thick. Each award is unique in shape, color and wood grain.

McNaughton began the transformation by using a belt sander to smooth the rough, chainsaw-cut organic surface of each cookie. Since both sides would display text for the final awards, McNaughton said they required multiple passes with various grits of sand paper to create a smooth surface. He then sealed the wood with numerous coats of clear urethane. The Chicago Wilderness logo and text were printed on a clear vinyl laminate and an additional layer of clear gloss laminate was applied to seal and protect the text. The adhesive-backed graphics were carefully cut and transferred to each cookie.

The back of each award received another laminate sheet that reads, “The Chicago Wilderness Force of Nature Awards recognize people and organizations whose environmental conservation, restoration, advocacy, and/or educational activities extend above and beyond the ordinary and are inspirational examples for others.”

McNaughton estimated that it took him about 60 hours to create all 10 award plaques. The Forest Preserves of Cook County, one of the lead partners in the Chicago Wilderness alliance, generously donated the tree from which the cookies were cut plus Roy’s time, tools and labor to create the awards.

I had the pleasure to emcee the Chicago Wilderness awards ceremony at the Chicago Botanic Garden in July. Recipients were delighted with the tree cookie plaques and eager to display them at their respective organizations.

Learn more about Chicago Wilderness’ 2017 Force of Nature & Excellence in Ecological Restoration Program.

Cherie LeBlanc Fisher works for the U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station. Her current projects include the Forest Service’s Urban Forest Inventory program to collect tree and land use data in the Chicago region. She also participates in the Chicago Region Tree’s Initiative’s Tree Stewardship and Planting Team.

 



SEP Update: City Squanders Ash Tree Removals

Hamilton-Holmes-Shell-TableAs if it’s not difficult enough to make a successful go of local urban wood movements, we would like to think that municipalities would be delighted to have a woodworker interested in repurposing some of its ash tree removals.

Such was not the case in Hamilton, ON, where custom woodworker Nicholas Hamilton Holmes was denied access of trees taken down due to emerald ash borer infestation. Instead of being made into custom furniture and wood products, the trees were chipped and land filled.

Sad but true.

You can read about Holmes’ battle with the city in this month’s Illinois Urban Wood Update.

Speaking of Nicks, learn how to enter the Rebuilding Exchange’s contest to win tickets to a stand-up comedy performance by Nick Offerman at the Chicago Theater. Offerman, an accomplished woodworker in his own right, will hold court on Dec. 1.

Also in this issue, read about the progress the Southeast Urban Wood Exchange has made in launching a website created to connect land owners, arborists, tree removal professionals, sawyers and woodworkers.

If you’ve got the time and the mind, make a date listen in on the Fall Urban Wood Utilization Webcast hosted by the Wood Education and Resource Center. Among the agenda items, Don Peterson will give an update on the Full Circle project that involves wood utilization teams in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin. The full agenda and a link to the webcast is included in this month’s newsletter.

Have you saved an urban tree from the landfill today? Tell us about it at info@illinoisurbanwood.org.

Until next month, enjoy!

Rich Christianson
Communications Director
Illinois Wood Utilization Team

 

READ THE SEPTEMBER ILLINOIS URBAN WOOD UPDATE