Archive for March, 2012

Lotus Flower Pattern to a Sunburst Top

Posted in Artisanal, Furniture Making, Woodworking with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2012 by johnwiggers

We have just completed a custom Ellipse II dining table that is due for delivery next week.

The massive 72″ diameter top was made as a one piece sunburst, using flat cut natural Walnut.

I especially love how the radiating grain pattern of the top looks so much like the petals of a Lotus flower.

Aquaria Console – Curly Birds Eye Maple

Posted in Artisanal, Furniture Making, Woodworking with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2012 by johnwiggers

This example of an Aquaria Console was recently sold to a private collector.


Measuring 42-1/2″ long x 10-1/2″ wide x 29-1/8″ high the apron and legs were constructed of Chestnut Curly Maple and fitted together using mortise and tenon construction. The single drawer at the end was made of dovetailed solid Maple.

Without question the focal point of this console is the spectacular grain pattern on the top, which has been crafted from a rare sampling of Curly Birds Eye Maple veneer that was stained and polished to a high sheen.


Maple is a common species of North American tree, and in rare instances some of these trees will yield unusual grain patterns such as Birds Eye or Curly. Experts are generally baffled as to why certain trees will exhibit this kind of graining, although the prevailing wisdom seems to be that some kind of disease or fungus is the cause.

In reality there are two differing conditions which cause these types of grain patterns to occur.

Curly (or Fiddleback) is the result of tree ring compression, and this most often occurs in trees that are exposed to winds which cause them to sway. This motion, in turn, causes ring compression on the side of the tree opposite the wind, and this manifests as a distinctive crossfire figure to the grain. It makes sense that this type of figure is usually found near the crotch and roots of a tree, since these areas are the ones which experience the most movement due to wind.

Birds Eye, on the other hand, is caused by stunted growth and two primary conditions must exist in order for this type of graining to occur. Namely, a Maple must be growing on the north-east slope of a hill and be closely surrounded by a dense cluster of other trees which compete with it for essential nutrients, moisture and sunlight.

About 15 years ago, during a visit to one of my vendors, I was shown an unusual log of Maple that had both Curly and Birds Eye grain patterns melded together. Although the graining looked spectacular my supplier felt bewildered as to how to sell the log, since it was too Curly to be sold as Birds Eye, and had too much Birds Eye to be sold as Curly.

Needless to say I bought the log without hesitation, since it was too unusual and beautiful to be left behind. Although I had no current project for which to use this wood, I decided to squirrel it away in my core stash of rare woods for use on a select pieces down the road.

To this day this log of Curly Birds Eye is the only example of this type of grain pattern I have ever seen.

It’s unlikely that a log of this calibre and scarcity will ever appear again.

Strong Evidence That Trees Do Have a Higher Intelligence

Posted in Artisanal, FSC, Hopi, Natural World with tags , , , , , , , , on March 3, 2012 by johnwiggers

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international not-for-profit organization that was founded in 1993 by environmental groups such as Greenpeace, The Sierra Club and World Wildlife Fund. Its mandate is to protect the world’s forests through globally recognized principles of responsible forest stewardship.

Between 2000 and 2004 I served on the board of FSC Canada in a variety of roles, including Treasurer and Chair. In that time I was privileged to meet people with a divergent range of perspectives that were all connected, in one form or another, to trees and forests.

The people I met ranged from industry executives to environmentalists; government bureaucrats to members of NGOs (non-governmental organizations); social activists, trade unionists, hunters, trappers, biologists, loggers, scientists, and a variety of indigenous peoples who all relied on the forest to some degree for their culture, livelihood and spirituality.

Because FSC is regarded globally as the most comprehensive forum where all of these diverse voices can be heard, it makes sense that a tremendous amount of unique information relating to trees and forests can be found there.

During my tenure on this board I learned many fascinating things about the forest and the broader natural world, none the least of which was the fact that there seems to exist a form of higher intelligence within the natural world that defies any kind of scientific explanation.

Most of us already know that in the frigid coastal waters of the Pacific Northwest there is an annual event taking place that is known as the salmon run. Every year many hundreds of thousands of salt water salmon – having grown to maturity in the far reaches of the Pacific Ocean – instinctively take it upon themselves to migrate hundreds of miles to the very rivers from which they themselves originally came.

Having found the mouths of the rivers of their birth, these fish then begin a long battle upstream against raging currents of water that cascade down from the snowmelt of the surrounding mountains. While fighting this current these salmon must simultaneously dodge gauntlets of hungry bears who have come to depend on this annual protein-rich feast of fish in order to fatten up for the long winter hibernation that lies ahead.

Those salmon that succeed in overcoming the river and the bears earn themselves the right to lay and fertilise eggs on the pebble bottoms of the upstream riverbeds. Having completed their task these salmon then die and complete their cycle of life at almost the precise spot where they themselves we born several years earlier.

For many years foresters and biologists have studied this dynamic and developed theories on the possible connections between the salmon and the surrounding forest. Why, for example, were the trees closest to the river bigger and stronger than similar trees of similar age growing a mere hundred yards away?

What scientists discovered was that when a bear caught a salmon in the river, it would typically haul that salmon into the nearby line of trees. This would allow them to feast in a place that was concealed from their hungry competitors. In their haste to fatten up for the winter these bears would focus on eating the protein-rich eggs and brain matter of the fish – leaving the rest of the carcass to rot in the forest.

The simple theory that resulted was that these decaying fish became fertilizer for the nearby trees and plants. To scientifically prove and measure this theory, the scientists isolated a protein that was unique to the salmon species. This protein became identified as the N-15 protein marker.

The theory went on to speculate that by measuring the vegetation alongside salmon streams for the N-15 protein marker, it would be possible to verify not only that fish protein was feeding the trees, but also how much of that protein was making its way into the trees. And by taking core samples and measuring the amount of N-15 protein in each layer of tree rings, it would also be possible to compile a historical record of the size of salmon runs in previous years.

This type of study held considerable fascination for many people connected to the forest industry because of the unique and close interconnected relationship that exists between bears, rivers, trees and salmon in this rather complex dynamic.

The bears, for example, depend on the salmon directly as a source of food, and on the river indirectly to deliver the salmon, and the trees to provide cover. The salmon, in turn, rely on the river as a means of transport and as a place to spawn their young. The salmon also depend on large and healthy shoreline trees to provide the necessary shade to keep the river water cool, because warm water kills eggs. In addition bears help the salmon by culling weaker fish from the spawning run, thereby ensuring healthier and stronger future offspring.

The river relies on healthy trees and other ground vegetation to prevent silt from clogging its beds. The trees, in turn, were found to have a more complex and dynamic role within this larger equation.

It is obvious, for example, that the trees rely directly on the bears to deliver the fish from the river to the surrounding forests. Trees, however, are not carnivores and cannot digest meat. Therefore, scientists began to study the process that converts fish protein into tree fibre.

What they discovered was that there are tiny microbes living in the soil near the root base of trees, and these microbes break down the decaying fish carcasses into a manner that is digestible by trees. This reconstituted form of fish protein is then delivered by the microbes to nearby tree rootlets and these rootlets, it turn, make a barter transaction with the microbe of a droplet of tree sugar in exchange for the delivery of partially digested fish protein.

In this manner the tree receives the food it needs in order to thrive along the river’s edge. By using the barter transaction the tree rewards the microbe with the sugar droplet the microbe needs for its own survival. The microbes, after all, can only live on tree sugars and not fish protein.

While this dynamic is fascinating in its own right, there is one key aspect of it that utterly boggles the mind. In studying the relationship between trees and microbes, the scientists decided to monitor the flow levels of sugars within tree root systems. This idea developed from the theory that the levels of tree sugar production within the tree would probably ebb and flow in direct proportion to the amount of partially digested salmon protein the tree would be bartering for with the soil microbes.

What scientists discovered was astounding. While the levels of tree sugars did, in fact, ebb and flow in direct proportion to the amount of salmon protein that was being transacted, the stunning discovery was that the levels of tree sugars started to rise while the salmon were still hundreds of miles out to sea. And the level of tree sugar production would also fluctuate in direct proportion to the size of the run.

What this means is that on some mysterious and completely unexplained level the trees seem to know in advance – almost telepathically – not only when the salmon are starting their spawning run, but also how many salmon are due to arrive. Clearly there is some form of higher communication, or consciousness, at work that enables a tree to intuitively sense the instinctive behaviours of another life form hundreds of miles away.

Diana Beresford-Kroeger alludes to this as well in her latest book “The Global Forest” when she points out the interconnection between the great forests of the global garden and the invisible forests of the oceans. In a separate chapter Diana also talks about silent sound, and how trees communicate by infrasound.

What all this makes clear is that we, as human beings, have generally very little understanding of the true interrelationships that exist between and within all forms of life on this planet.

To paraphrase the words of Black Elk: “What we do not understand, we fear. And what we fear, we destroy.” Given the collapse that is currently taking place amongst stocks of wild Pacific salmon, and the rampant deforestation that is obliterating many Northwest forests and salmon streams, it is clear that we humans are consistent on this latter point. We end up destroying what we fail to understand.

Remembering Todd Marckese

Posted in Artisanal, Furniture Making, Woodwork with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 1, 2012 by johnwiggers

Today is February 29th, and it was exactly 8 years ago today that a friend and client by the name of Todd Marckese passed away at the young age of 38.

I first met Todd while exhibiting at the Chicago Design Show in 1998. At the time he was principal of Marckese Design Studio in Orlando, Florida. His client list was prestigious and his work was recognized in many design publications including Architectural Digest, Florida Design and Showboats International.

Todd was exploring the idea of branding his own furniture collection, and he asked if I might be interested in doing product development and prototyping with him. We exchanged business cards, but it would be almost 5 years before we spoke again.

When he called in the summer of 2003, Todd asked if I remembered our conversation in Chicago. I did, largely because of the unusual business card he left behind. Measuring just over 2 inches square this card stuck out both literally and figuratively. Todd laughed at my observation, pointing out that it was necessary to be different in order to be remembered.

Todd went on to say that he was working on an upscale residence and the project required many unique pieces of custom furniture. One of the pieces he required was a desk, but it came with the proviso that his clients had strong holistic inclinations and, therefore, a conventional desk would not work. This, ultimately, laid the groundwork for the Kidney Shaped Desk making the transition from concept to reality.

In the ensuing months Todd and I developed a symbiotic working relationship as we collaborated on several custom furniture pieces for this particular project. In tandem with this we also began to discuss his dream of creating his own furniture collection. Through our discussions I got the distinct impression that Todd’s greatest passion was designing furniture. He mentioned several times how much he disliked shopping for fabrics, flooring and wall treatments, but as an interior designer this was the proverbial necessary evil for him to have projects that also allowed him to design actual furniture.

It was during one of our lengthy conversations about design and following one’s bliss that I mentioned an inspirational book entitled “This Time I Dance“, by Tama J. Kieves. In the book there is a quote made by Tama that goes something like this:

“If you’re this successful doing something you don’t love, just imagine how successful you could be doing something you do love.”

After a long pause Todd suddenly said, “That’s it, man; I’m doing it.”

“Doing what?” I asked.

“The furniture collection. I’m doing it. I’m not putting it off any more.”

What was so shocking about his announcement was not that he had decided to move forward with making his collection, but that he was going to devote his full time and energy to it. And when I say he was committing to it full time, that meant he had simultaneously decided to shut down his flourishing interior design business in the fearless pursuit of his dream.

Up until this point the bulk of the correspondence between us had been via fax, email, or phone. In late December Todd flew up from Orlando to visit my shop for the first time. I was more than a little surprised to see him showing up in the middle of a Canadian winter wearing little more than open toe sandals.

“I always wear sandals” proclaimed Todd “No matter what.”

One morning as we were driving up to my shop we came upon a car stuck in the deep snow of a ditch. I pulled over to give the guy a hand getting out, assuming that Todd (who was barefoot in his sandals) would simply wait in the truck. Todd was having none of that, and within seconds he too was knee deep in snow helping me push the guy out.

When we arrived at the shop Todd was like a kid in a candy store. Wide eyed and excited there were several times when he simply wandered off to follow his curiousity, and I’d have no idea where he was until I heard his booming voice calling out “Oohhhh Mannnn, that is soooo Coool!!!” over something incredible he had come across. We had several productive days during that visit as we worked out the details of the prototypes for his furniture collection.

In the evenings Teresa and I would have Todd over to the house for dinner, after which Todd and I would spend several more hours talking about furniture and design over beer. Invariably it would be Boddingtons or Guinness for me, while Todd’s preference was for an English ale called Old Speckled Hen.

By February Todd’s prototypes were well under way, and he had arranged to have the pieces photographed with an avant-garde photographer by the name of Walter Singh.

In addition to finishing up his remaining commissions and winding down his interior design business at the same time, Todd ended up scheduling himself for a long awaited surgery.

On Saturday February 28th Todd was at home recovering from the surgery, and we were having a lengthy phone discussion to review the status of his furniture pieces. At one point he unnerved me by saying “Aw Man, I’m dying.”

“Don’t put that out there.” I remember saying. “What are you talking about anyway?”

“The pain” he lamented “It’s killing me.”

That ended up being the last time I ever spoke with Todd, because in the early hours of the following morning he passed away in his sleep. He died at the young age of 38, leaving behind his lovely wife Melissa, and two beautiful children: Landon and Ireland.

Although I had only gotten to know Todd over the previous few months, his passing affected me deeply. Without question Todd was an extremely talented designer who was also a visionary in many ways. But more than that he was an original; one who was both fearless and big hearted as an individual, and who absolutely adored his wife and children.

If there was any solace to come out of his passing it came from something Melissa said a few weeks after Todd died. She told me that in all the years she had known him she had never seen Todd as happy as he was in the last few months of his life as he was finally pursuing his dream. That made me all the more pleased with the decision I had already made to finish off his furniture pieces, so his dream could come to reality.

The images that follow are the first pieces Todd designed for his furniture collection. Todd carefully selected all wood grains and tones to draw emotion and consistency throughout the collection, creating a unique line that not only captures the eye artistically, but in a manner that is environmentally conscious as well. Never forgetting his roots, each piece is the namesake of beloved people, locations and memorable events from his home state, Michigan.

Baroda Cocktail Table: 48″ dia x 18″ high, in Zebrawood.

Hinchman End Table: 24″ x 24″ x 26-1/4″ high finished in Jacobean Oak.

Hinchman Throw Table: 17-1/2″ dia. x 20″ high, finished in Jacobean Oak.

Hinchman Console: 54″ x 15″ x 32-1/2″ high, finished in Jacobean Oak with natural Curly English Sycamore top.

Hinchman Desk: 60″ x 30″ x 30-3/8″ high, finished in Jacobean Oak with black Tuscany leather inset top.

Hinchman Desk: Rear View

Lakeshore Screen: 4 panels each measuring 95″ high x 19-1/2″ wide, finished in Ebonized Oak with Damask strapping.

Lakeshore Mirror: 95″ high x 19-1/2″ wide x 1-3/4″ thick, finished in Ebonized Oak.

Tiscornia Coffee Table: 60″ long x 16″ wide x 17″ high, finished in Jacobean Oak.

Landon Desk: 84″ long x 26″ wide x 30″ high, finished in Mappa Burl with inset of black Tuscany leather.

Landon Desk: Rear View