Arboretum to display furniture from fallen ash trees

  • Junctures by Ross Fiersten

    Junctures by Ross Fiersten Courtesy of Morton Arboretum

  • Creative artists are finding ways to turn trees destroyed by the pesky emerald ash borer into functional works of art.

      Creative artists are finding ways to turn trees destroyed by the pesky emerald ash borer into functional works of art. Rick West | Staff Photographer, 2006

  • Phoenix Chair by Gary "Hal" Link is one of the furniture pieces on display through Sunday at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle as part of its latest exhibit, "Rising from Ashes - Furniture from Lost Trees."

    Phoenix Chair by Gary "Hal" Link is one of the furniture pieces on display through Sunday at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle as part of its latest exhibit, "Rising from Ashes - Furniture from Lost Trees." Courtesy of Morton Arboretum

  • Zipper Chair by Brandon Fenninger

    Zipper Chair by Brandon Fenninger Courtesy of Morton Arboretum

  • Pedestal #5 by Barry Newstat

    Pedestal #5 by Barry Newstat Courtesy of Morton Arboretum

  • Table by Matt Seiler

    Table by Matt Seiler Courtesy of Morton Arboretum

 
Published9/3/2008 12:05 AM

Our first house was a cute little 1920s English cottage, complete with slate roof, copper gutters and a glorious old elm tree.

That was about it in the way of a garden. The tiny lawn could support just this wonderful old elm tree that had somehow survived the ravages of Dutch elm disease in the 1930s.

 

One year after we moved in, the village forester stopped by and delivered the grave news: Dutch elm had claimed our tree and mandated its removal. Surely there's another way, I silently protested, even as the mighty tree fell to the chain saw, destined not even for mulch but destruction.

A newly opened exhibit at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, "Rising from Ashes - Furniture from Lost Trees," shows a great way to make lemonade from lemons.

With today's emerald ash borer threat, many of the Chicago area's ash trees are threatened by this invasive insect. Rather than toss the infected trees into the trash pile, creative artists have transformed the wood into beautiful, functional works of art.

Thirty custom pieces of ash furniture, including chairs, tables, dressers and chests made by members of the Chicago Furniture Designers Association are on display at the arboretum through Sunday.

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Anamari Dorgan, the arboretum's manager of interpretation and exhibits, says the display aims to create awareness of the emerald ash borer and stimulate interest in "emerald ash board," a term coined to describe reclaimed ash wood.

In addition to the furniture displays, there are information kiosks and weekend demonstrations. Local millers will show the sawmill process, and members of the designers association will demonstrate lathe work, wood-shaping, joinery, surface texturing and other aspects of the craft.

We do not usually think of ash as a furniture wood, but John Kriegshauser, an association exhibitor and co-chairman of the exhibit, says this isn't true worldwide.

"The Japanese do quite a bit with ash," he says. "It's a hardwood that their forests provide."

Kriegshauser says ash is a strong but springy wood, often used for steamed furniture elements in the United States. Gardeners also will recognize it in shovel handles and wheel bases.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

As a furniture material, Kriegshauser says ash is underutilized. There are only so many shovel handles that you need, he says.

He says ash "is a little cantankerous to carve - it has soft and dense spots," but he likes the ash medium for its beauty and natural pale color.

Kriegshauser's own piece in the exhibit, a Japanese-inspired tansu chest, showcases the natural color of the wood, and clean, simple lines of Japanese construction. He says he played with the idea for several months and probably devoted between 80 and 100 hours to execute the design.

Might I have been able to save my old elm?

Kriegshauser advises homeowners who wish to reclaim a troubled tree to examine its size and branching pattern. Branching limbs should begin high up on the trunk, as they do in a forest, so that the usable part of the trunk is at least 8 feet tall.

Kriegshauser says trunks with limbs yield less sturdy timber.

"The cellular structures (around the limb) develop in response to loads," he said. "This leads to imbalances and the wood tends to warp."

Most desirable is a trunk of some girth - 16 to 30 inches for furniture, says Kriegshauser. Smaller pieces of the trunk or branches might be used decorative for art objects.

Trees that have died due to infection need special treatment so the disease is not spread through their harvested wood. In the case of infected ash trees, sawmills must receive certification to process the timber. (See the arboretum's Web site, mortonarb.org, for a list of sawyers approved to work with emerald ash borer infected wood.)

The first step for a homeowner would be to find an arborist to assess the damage to the tree and its potential for harvested timber. Next, work with a sawyer and a furniture designer to help convert a troubled tree into a treasured heirloom.

• Cathy Jean Maloney writes about nature and the Morton Arboretum each month in Neighbor.

If you go

What: "Rising from Ashes - Furniture from Lost Trees"

When: 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. daily through Sunday

Where: Morton Arboretum, 4100 Route 53, Lisle

Cost: $9 for adults, $8 for seniors and $6 for youths; Wednesdays: $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and $4 for youths

Info: (630) 968-0074 or mortonarb.org

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