Sunday, September 26, 2010

Col. David Gaston Alford

In an earlier post I made reference to my grandfather's role in the Dutch Underground during World War II, including how he helped rescue shot down Allied pilots to get them back beyond enemy lines. This was very important to the Allied war effort at the time, because although shot down planes could easily be replaced it was the skilled pilots and crew who were not so easy to come by.

Anyhow, that previous blog post ended up triggering an Internet search which, in turn, put me in touch with a fellow named John Casall who lives in Texas. It turns out that Casall is the relative of a man named Col. David Gaston Alford, who during WW2 was an American pilot who ended up successfully crash landing his plane in a field near my grandfather's village of Groenlo.

I spoke to my father about this, and he said that as a boy he remembers seeing maybe 30 or 40 plane wrecks in and around his village but there was only one intact plane that had managed to make a crash belly landing in a field. This was quite likely Col. Alford's plane.

Wow, what a small world, eh?

Without the Internet how would we ever share and discover this kind of information?

Below I have cut and pasted a copy of the invitation to celebrate the life of Col. David Gaston Alford.

A Loving Tribute to Col. David Gaston Alford.

Distinguished Flying Cross recipient and a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, Colonel David Gaston Alford (USAF Ret.) died on Monday, May 20, 2002 of complications related to his recent struggle with bone cancer at the Health Care Center at Air Force Village II, where he had
resided for the past 13 years. He was born in Rising Star, TX on May 29, 1917, attending Daniel Baker College in Brownwood, TX where he earned a B.S. in education, and East Texas State College in Commerce, TX where he received an M.B.A. in accounting. He became an Army Corps Flying Cadet in 1939 and graduated from flying school as part of Class 40E at Kelly AFB in August 1940. Col. Alford began his military flying career as part of an Atlantic patrol to search for German vessels. Col. Alford is best known for his heroism while serving as Group Operations Officer for the 91st
Bomb Group when his plane was shot down while leading a raid on Frankfurt, Germany in February, 1944. While under heavy flak attack, his B-17 bomber caught fire, and, after bailing out, his crew discovered that his parachute was on the floor of the plane; however, he managed to safely land it in a cow pasture near Groenlo, Holland. Thanks to the kindness of Dutch families whom he has never forgot, and with the help of the Dutch Underground, he was hidden by patriots who risked their lives to hide and feed him for more than seven months. With their help he evaded the enemy, traveling, as he frequently recalled with much delight, as a deaf and dumb typewriter repairman and was picked up south of Liege, Belgium by the U.S.
Army as they overran the area in battle in October 1944. On returning to the States, he was part of a B-17 training organization in Tampa, FL, which was followed by duty as an Air Force liaison officer to the Army at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, TX. Col. Alford returned to action with the outbreak of the Korean War where he flew 35 missions in a B-29 bomber. One of Col. Alford's fondest military memories was his 3-year tour in Greece as Base Commander with his family. It was in Greece where he became active in the Masonic Lodge, rising to a 32nd degree Mason and Shriner. Col. Alford's final base command was at Sheppard AFB, Wichita Falls, TX where he retired from military service in December, 1965. For almost 14 more years, he worked in the public sector with the Wichita Falls city government and finally with the area planning commission. His final retirement brought adequate time to devote to his passion for golf and his fondness for traveling with his beloved wife, Dorothy. His last 13 years he lived at Air Force Village II in San Antonio, TX with his wife Though his health took a turn for the worse just several weeks prior to his death, his memory was still sharp, said his family, and he could recount a story with remarkable detail. In spite of his illness, Col. Alford managed to keep his sense of humor as he smiled, laughed, and he recounted his stories. In addition to his wife of almost 30 years, Dorothy Jean Burkett Alford, Col. Alford is survived by his son, Michael Alford and his wife Bernadette of Framingham, MA; his daughter, Patricia Lanier and her husband Jerry of Shawnee, OK; three grandchildren, Chad Lanier and his wife Melissa, of Kaufman, TX, Lea Alford of Framingham, MA and Lori Lanier of Shawnee, OK; a great-grandson, Jacob Alford Lanier of Kaufman, TX and a stepdaughter, Dorothy Dee Phillips of Stuart, FL. A Memorial Service will be held at the High Flight Chapel in the facilities of Air Force Village II on Wednesday, May 29, 2002 at 10:30 A.M. to fittingly celebrate the life of Col. David Gaston Alford on this, the 85th anniversary of his birth. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Texas Scottish Rite Home for Children, 2222 Welborn, Dallas, TX 75219 or the Air Force Village II Health Care Center, 5100 John D. Ryan Blvd.,
San Antonio, TX 78245. By John Casall (

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ellipse II Table - The Bamboo Experiment

In a previous post I described the creative process behind the Ellipse II Table.

Given how beautiful this turned out to be, I began to consider other materials for custom made alternatives. One of the materials that came to mind was bamboo.

Bamboo has been available to custom furniture makers in veneer and plywood form for a number of years. It's use as a "green" material, however, has not been without questions and controversy.

In simple terms bamboo is considered a sustainable alternative to wood because bamboo is actually a grass and not a wood. Ironically, as demand for bamboo has grown many forests in south-east Asia have ended up being cut down to make way for bamboo plantations. This reality can hardly be interpreted as protective of trees and forests.

In addition there have been many questions about herbicide and pesticide use on these plantations, as well as the use of urea formaldehyde glues in the making of bamboo ply. And this doesn't negate other questions having to do with issues of fair labour practices in the growing, harvesting and processing of bamboo as a material.

In recent years these issues have been addressed with the introduction of FSC certification to the bamboo marketplace.

Given this availability of FSC certified bamboo that is also NAUF and CARB2 compliant I decided in early 2010 to prototype a custom made version of the Ellipse II Table crafted exclusively from carbonized bamboo plywood.

The sculpted cone base was made from stacked laminated bamboo ply sheeting that was milled and sanded to achieve its final shape. The top was made from a full sheet of bamboo ply, with the corner offcuts being used to make the built up aprons for the undercut bevel edge.

All surfaces were then sanded and rubbed in a low-VOC natural linseed oil finish. A scale model prototype of this table is shown below:

This table was unveiled at the Green Living Show in Toronto in April, 2010. It was during this show that its "green" credibility was put to the test when a woman suddenly dropped to her hands and knees to crawl around and sniff every exposed surface of the table.

When I asked what she was doing she said she was smelling for urea formaldehydes and VOCs. It turns out there were none to be found, and we apparently received the "green" housekeeping 'sniff of approval'.

Sustainable, Environmental, Eco Lifestyles, Healthy, All Natural, Home and Garden, Interior Design, Eco Friendly, Green Furniture, Green Furnishings, Green Designs, FSC Certified, Reclaimed Materials. Organic, LEED compliant, NAUF. CARB2, Bamboo, Natural Fibers. Non-Toxic, low-VOC, Non VOC, Natural Finishes.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Custom Wall Unit to the Grand Cayman Islands

Over the years we have made numerous custom furniture pieces for all sorts of incredible homes. Quite often the last time we see this furniture is when it's in our shop, before packing up and delivering to the final destination.

Recently I came across this photo of one of our custom wall units that ended up in a beautiful home in the Grand Cayman Islands. This Pyramid Wall Unit was designed by Monroe Sherman of Carriage House in Dania, Florida and together we jokingly dubbed it the "Monster Pyramid" because of its massive size.

This wall unit measures over 20' long and 9' high, with the center area custom configured to hold a 72" television and a wide range of audio/video electronics. Two raised pyramid 3-dimensional doors were made to conceal the components when not in use. The doors move side to side on concealed tracks to rest over glass vitrines at the ends when you want to watch television. The exterior wood finish is high gloss Kila-Kila, while the interior finish is satin black lacquer.

As much as I love the wall unit photo, it should be pointed out that the rest of the house isn't too shabby either. Check out these exterior photos of the property, which is an exquisite beachfront location offering a perfect view of the sunset each day. Incredible!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Sudden Trip to Florida

I've just returned from an unexpected trip to Florida. It turns out that a satisfied customer from several years back is now furnishing a luxury condo at the Trump Hollywood.

Because of how happy this client was with our previous work he is now specifying that we make the custom furniture for this project too.

(I do love having happy customers!)

Yesterday ended up being an interesting day to say the least. The morning was spent on site going over details, measuring and taking photos. Speaking of photos, check out this incredible ocean view from the master bedroom.

After a late lunch at the DCOTA I had a few hours to myself, so I used the opportunity to take a mini roadtrip to Homestead to check out something I've long wanted to see. The place is called Coral Castle and it's sometimes referred to as America's Stonehenge because of the fact that massive blocks of coral (weighing as much as 29 tons each) were used in its construction. What's most amazing about this place is that these blocks were quarried, moved and set in place by one man working alone - and this guy was of slight build weighing no more than 100 lbs.

A subsequent post will elaborate further on what Edward Leedskalnin created here, but in the meantime I'll share these photos.

By the time I was done it was late afternoon, and it was also Friday.

Time to decompress and relax.

Given that my car rental was this Ford Mustang convertible, and what else was I to do but put the top down for the ride back to the city?

I enjoyed an extended moment of pure zen cruising up the Palmetto Highway watching a setting Sun, sipping a cold Snapple and listening to this retro tune blasting through the sound system.

What a great way to start the weekend!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Ellipse II Table - The Story Behind its Creation

In 2002 I began to experiment with ideas on how to bend wood across complex three dimensional planes. In the course of doing this I inadvertently created a tapered elliptical cone shape that, at first glance, looked ideal for a dining table base.

After building a prototype of the cone my next challenge was making the top. After heeding advice to "keep it simple" I settled on a pure elliptical oval shape with bookmatched grain and flat edge apron. A 1" high stainless steel plinth was added to the underside of the base. The resulting table was finished in Tobacco Mahogany, and named the Ellipse Dining Table.

Although the resulting table looked OK, there was something about it that was just plain missing. What bothered me most was the finish - which was a basic chocolate/mocha/expresso brown. At the time this was a safe finish to use, because just about every professional in the interior design industry was using it in one form or another since it "went with everything".

One could probably credit Holly Hunt and Christian Liaigre with first introducing this look to the high end of the market in the 1990s. By the early 2000s, however, the finish was everywhere and I soon realized that to be the main problem. Namely, because of the finish this table was looking like everything else out there - even the cheap dross knock-offs that were now beginning to flood the market by the containerload from offshore.

By 2006 I decided to refine the design with some subtle changes. I began by using a wood called Nero Chaquiro, which is a lesser known species that comes from an FSC certified forest in Brazil. In addition to being certified as sustainably harvested the use of this wood also helps support an indigenous community living along the banks of the Amazon River by providing a tangible incentive for the peoples living there to manage their surrounding forest responsibly.

The main structure of the table was crafted out of FSC certified ply, which was also NAUF and CARB2 compliant due to the fact that there were no added urea formaldehydes in the glues and binders. To minimize the heaviness of the top the grain pattern was changed to sunburst and the edge profile became a deep undercut bevel. The stainless steel plinth was removed in lieu of a small convex inlay of Narra being added as a subtle detail. The resulting table was finished in a low-VOC water based urethane, and renamed the Ellipse II Table.

Taken together these changes created a more sculptural look to the design, and the response from the design community was tremendously positive. Our ability to custom tailor this design to meet the requirements of each individual client has since resulted in the Ellipse II Table becoming one of our most popular offerings today.

In October 2008 a custom commission of this table for interior designer Wendy Blount was even published in an issue of Metropolitan Home magazine.

Thanks to the positive response this article received, the table photo was subsequently republished in the book "Glamour: Making it Modern" by Michael Lassell.

Sustainable, Environmental, Eco Lifestyles, Healthy, All Natural, Home and Garden, Interior Design, Eco Friendly, Green Furniture, Green Furnishings, Green Designs, FSC Certified, Reclaimed Materials. Organic, LEED compliant, NAUF. CARB2, Bamboo, Natural Fibers. Non-Toxic, low-VOC, Non VOC, Natural Finishes.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Rare Antique Desk Turns Up

Yesterday I was digging through archives trying to find an old video clip of the "Antiques Roadshow" program that featured the desk made by one of my namesake ancestors. Despite having no luck finding the video I did turn up something else at a website called Southampton Antiques.

It's a rare Secretary Desk made by Henry H. Wiggers of Cincinnati, Ohio.
The description reads as follows:

Description: Rare walnut Victorian secretary signed "Pat Feb 6, (18)77 H.H. Wiggers, Kearney & Wiggers Manufacturers, Cin'ti, O." This desk is in all original condition. It has two raised burled panels with a round signature brass medallion beneath the double step gallery. The two sides of the desk swing open with double brass hinges on either side and metal rods that mechanically pull the writing surface out when the desk is opened. The interior of the desk has four drawers in the middle and cubbies on the sides. The drawer fronts and tops of the cubbies are beautifully appointed with birdseye maple fronts. The desk has the original maroon fabric on the writing surface. The fabric is stained and could easily be replaced with a piece of leather. On such an original historically important piece we elected to keep it original and let the buyer decide on this. The desk sits on four columns with clover leaf cutouts in the base. It has a finished back. The following information was obtained from the Smithsonian Institute. "On 6 February 1877, Henry H. Wiggers of Cincinnati patented another variety of the Wooton-type desk. The patent specification for this desk or secre- tary stipulated that it was provided with a pair of hinged covers coupled to a sliding member in such a manner that the advancement of said slide causes the cornered style of the Fallows desk (illustrated in "Wisconsin Magazine of History" Vol. 35, No. 4 [Summer, 1952, p. 276), which is labeled "Moore's cabinet desk, Indianapolis, Indiana, Patented Jan. 8, 1878. (This desk) patented by Henry H. Wiggers of Cincinnati, Ohio, 6 February 1877, now in the Heinz House, Greenfield Village, Dearborn, Michigan. was listed as the Wooton Desk Manufacturing Com- pany." In fact, the 1870-1885 period was a most dynamic period in American furniture design. Moore, Wooten, Wiggins and others inundated the US Patent office with a number of innovative and interesting designs. We have never had this particular desk before. We believe it to be an important example of Victorian furniture design. Circa: 1877 Dimensions: 58"H x 33.5"W (closed) x 23"D

Henry H. Wiggers founded the Wiggers Furniture Co. in Cincinnati in 1865. According to the patent it was approximately 12 years later that he was in a partnership with Kearney in this venture of making patented desks.

While poking around Google I also came across a digital copy of "Trade News Publishing" from 1910, which had the same Wiggers Furniture Co. listed as a key player in the (then) growing automobile manufacturing sector. That struck me as rather odd until I learned that wood was an integral component in the making of early cars. At that time wood frames were being reinforced with steel to make something called "armoured wood" for attaching metal body panels. (In the years that followed wood was phased out in favour of aluminum and all steel construction).

This era was clearly the Golden Age of American car manufacturing, and I especially love knowing that others in my extended family were open minded enough to be exploring new opportunities in emerging markets.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Proof That Trees do Have a Higher Intelligence

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.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Over the last 20 years we have occasionally used a material called parchment in several of our custom made furniture pieces.

Parchment is a thin material made from calfskin, sheepskin or goatskin. It is distinct from leather in that it is limed, not tanned. For this reason it is sensitive to humidity and not waterproof. Parchment use has a long history, going back to Egyptian Fourth Dynasty texts. The Assyrians and Babylonians also wrote their cuniforms on parchment from the 6th Century BC onward.

In Europe parchment craft emerged as an artform in the 15th or 16th century, but it wasn't until the emergence of the Art Deco movement from 1915 to the early 1930s that parchment became used in fine furniture made by the likes of Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann and Jules Leleu. Parchment also enjoyed a brief resurgence in the 1970s and 1980s thanks to the exotic work of furniture designers such as Ron Seff and Karl Springer.

Parchment can be a challenging material to work with because of its tensile rigidity and inclination to shrink when drying. In addition, because it is a natural material careful attention must be paid to the type of glue that gets used to adhere it to panels. We will typically use either a hyde glue or a dextrin adhesive made from plant materials.

My son Kevin has shown a keen interest in learning what I do for a living, so I recently challenged him to make sample panels out of some goatskin parchment we had on hand. The resulting panels are shown below and, frankly, I'm quite impressed at what Kevin was able to accomplish.

The panel on the left was finished in a high gloss low-VOC polyester, and the darker areas can be attributed to deeper resin penetration in areas where the parchment is thinner and more porous. The sample on the right was finished in a satin open grain pre-catalyzed lacquer, and this finish seems to give the parchment a more uniform and textured appearance.

I've since decided to also pull some shagreen (stingray skin) out of my core stash, and it will be interesting to see what Kevin comes up with on his next challenge.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Fisherman and the Businessman

(This is a classic Brazilian story, which has been copied and pasted from Paulo Coelho's blog.
Of course, this story could also be called "The Fisherman and the Consultant")

There was once a businessman who was sitting by the beach in a small Brazilian village.
As he sat, he saw a Brazilian fisherman rowing a small boat towards the shore having caught quite few big fish.
The businessman was impressed and asked the fisherman, “How long does it take you to catch so many fish?”
The fisherman replied, “Oh, just a short while.”
“Then why don’t you stay longer at sea and catch even more?” The businessman was astonished.
“This is enough to feed my whole family,” the fisherman said.
The businessman then asked, “So, what do you do for the rest of the day?”
The fisherman replied, “Well, I usually wake up early in the morning, go out to sea and catch a few fish, then go back and play with my kids. In the afternoon, I take a nap with my wife, and evening comes, I join my buddies in the village for a drink — we play guitar, sing and dance throughout the night.”

The businessman offered a suggestion to the fisherman.
“I am a PhD in business management. I could help you to become a more successful person. From now on, you should spend more time at sea and try to catch as many fish as possible. When you have saved enough money, you could buy a bigger boat and catch even more fish. Soon you will be able to afford to buy more boats, set up your own company, your own production plant for canned food and distribution network. By then, you will have moved out of this village and to Sao Paulo, where you can set up HQ to manage your other branches.”

The fisherman continues, “And after that?”
The businessman laughs heartily, “After that, you can live like a king in your own house, and when the time is right, you can go public and float your shares in the Stock Exchange, and you will be rich.”
The fisherman asks, “And after that?”
The businessman says, “After that, you can finally retire, you can move to a house by the fishing village, wake up early in the morning, catch a few fish, then return home to play with kids, have a nice afternoon nap with your wife, and when evening comes, you can join your buddies for a drink, play the guitar, sing and dance throughout the night!”
The fisherman was puzzled, “Isn’t that what I am doing now?”

(classic Brazilian story, probably also present in other cultures. Someone found the English version, but I could not identify the translator)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"The Green Chain" and a Whale's Tale

In October 2004 I was flying back from my final Board meeting with FSC Canada. By chance I happened to sit beside a film maker by the name of Mark Leiren-Young, and for most of the flight we ended up discussing a new film he was working on.

Mark's film was called "The Green Chain" and over the next 2 years I played a minor role as Technical Advisor on the project. For the most part I was Mark's source for information on forest sustainability and contacts at organizations such as FSC and World Wildlife Fund. Possibly my biggest contribution was suggesting that the story of K'iid K'iyaas (a.k.a. the sacred Golden Spruce of Haida Gwaii) be incorporated into the film.

Haida Gwaii (also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) lies about 100 miles off the Northwest coast of British Columbia, Canada. Covered in lush temperate rainforest, these islands are sometimes referred to as the Galapagos of Canada because they provide habitat for a broad range of unique plant, animal, fish and bird species. For at least 10,000 years, Haida Gwaii has also been home to the Haida First Nation, a powerful and enduring tribe famous for their warrior culture, their myths, and their totemic art forms.

One enduring mystical story derived from Haida folklore is that of K'iid K'iyaas, which loosely translates as "Old Tree". Haida legend tells of a young man who was disrespectful of nature's ways. When his village was destroyed by a snowstorm, only a boy and his grandfather were able to flee. Despite warnings not to look back, the boy disobeyed and instantly his arms were turned into branches and his legs became roots, and he was transformed into the magnificent golden spruce that became sacred to the Haida people.

Although genetically a Sitka Spruce, this tree's survival for over 300 years defied all conventional scientific explanation. Lacking cartenoid, a sort of arboreal sunscreen that protects leaves from excessive sunlight, the Golden Spruce should have withered and died. Instead, it flourished on the bank of the Yakoun River, and its inability to photosynthesize sunlight gave its needles a magnificent golden hue. When asked why this tree behaved in this manner, many Haida would simply smile and say: "Magic".

All this came to an end in January 1997 when an unemployed forester named Thomas Grant Hadwin cut the tree down and sent a Unabomber-type manifesto to the Haida First Nation, environmentalists, and several newspapers. Hadwin was a vocal critic of logging industry practices in British Columbia. He was particularly angered by what he perceived to be MacMillan Bloedel's hypocrisy of clear-cutting hundreds of thousands of trees, while professing to be good corporate citizens by cordoning off a small segment of rainforest around the Golden Spruce.

His letter proclaimed that "I didn't enjoy butchering this magnificent old plant, but you apparently needed a wake-up call that even a university-trained professional should be able to understand." Hadwin was arrested and charged, but he mysteriously disappeared before ever coming to trial.

The Haida were understandably devastated because they considered themselves responsible for the tree's stewardship and protection.

In "The Green Chain" Mark did a brilliant job of integrating the story of K'iid K'iyaas into the monologue of John Clements, who was portrayed by actor August Schellenberg in the film.

If nothing else the telling of the story of the Golden Spruce in the film helps keep the memory of K'iid K'iyaas alive.

"The Green Chain" made its world premiere at the Montreal World Film Festival in August 2007. Unbeknownst to most people, at the very same moment the festival was preparing to open something unusual and magical was happening simultaneously on Haida Gwaii.

On the north shore there's a tiny village called Masset which sits near the mouth of the Yakoun River. The Haida know the Yakoun as the "River of Life", and it was along this river that the Golden Spruce was felled about 10 years earlier.

Just as the festival was getting under way a Humpback Whale calf become stranded on a beach near the village of Masset. Rescuers made all kinds of efforts to get this whale out into the open water - all to no avail.

Finally two Haida men named Donnie Edenshaw and Ernie Swanson decided to sing a song of change to the whale, to encourage him back out to sea to rejoin his waiting mother. This moment was caught on video, and ended up making national news.

Although the incident captured in this video is clearly inspirational as a message of Hope, I like to believe that it was also a way for K'iid K'iyaas to say thanks to Mark Leiren-Young and the late John Juliani for making the film.

The Whale and the Tree of Life

In an earlier post I described the creative process behind the making of the Whale Tail Desk. My deepening fascination with whales inspired me to learn more about them. The resulting compilation was made into a short story that backed an art card handed out during the "Forest Leadership Forum".

Entitled "Whale and the Tree of Life" it attempted to explain the metaphor represented by the Whale Tail Desk and Andiroba Credenza:

Whale and the Tree of Life

Flood legends can be found in the mythologies of most ancient civilizations, from the Sumerians, Babylonians and Egyptians of the Middle East to India, China and in the Americas in the myths of the Mayans, Aztecs and numerous Native American tribes including the Hopi.

In Western society the most well-known of these legends is the story of Noah and the Ark, as recounted in the Book of Genesis.

Many oral traditions of Native Americans tell the story of a great civilization that once inhabited the Earth. These Original Peoples strayed from their harmonious ways and began to argue and fight with one another. Before long a Great Flood was sent to purify the Earth and destroy all that had lost its way.

A number of animals and birds managed to escape the rising waters by clinging to a large floating log. In an effort to restore the land these animals decided to take turns diving to the very depths of the floodwaters in an effort to retrieve handfuls of earth.

When this earth was placed on the back of a turtle's shell it began to grow and soon as island was formed in the water, much to the delight of the animals and birds. This island became known as Turtle Island, which originally represented North America but today represents all of the Earth as it swims through the Universe.

From the centre of the turtle's back grew a magnificent tree, with branches that reached skyward and pointed in each of the 4 cardinal directions. This tree became known as the sacred Tree of Life since it is the focal point of all this is living and is rooted at the centre of the Universe.

The whale is probably the most ancient of all mammals since it lived on the Earth in the time before the Great Flood. Whale survived by learning to swim but having experienced all that took place it carries with it the memory of the watery disaster and the history of all life on this planet.

It is for this reason the whales are considered the ancient symbol of Creation and have become one of the most revered and sacred of all living beings.

Aboriginals consider whales to be highly intelligent and believe that their actions can foreshadow events that are about to take place on the Earth. When whales suddenly enter freshwater rivers or swim ashore and deliberately beach themselves it is because they can sense a serious imbalance in their environment and are instinctively seeking escape by attempting to become land mammals once more.


With this in mind I often find my interest level piqued when I hear of unusual news stories involving whales.

On May 5, 2010, for example, a Grey Whale ended up wandering into downtown Vancouver by way of False Creek.

Five days later something even more spectacular happened off the coast of Israel when a Gray Whale was spotted on the wrong side of the world.

Probably my favorite story involving a whale took place in August 2007 when the rescue of a baby Humpback coincided with the opening of "The Green Chain" at the Montreal World Film Festival. This story is told in the next post.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Whale Tail Desk - The Story Behind its Creation

In the Autumn of 2001 my daughter was working on a school project that had to do with whales. Her writings contained all the standard textbook information available on these creatures, i.e. "whales are the world's largest mammals; they live in the sea; they eat fish or plankton, and they are endangered."

After reading her project to me, she asked what I knew about whales. I told her that in the St. Lawrence River (which lies between Canada and the United States) when a dead whale washes ashore it's carcass is so contaminated with pollutants that it has to be handled and disposed of as toxic waste. Needless to say, her eyes went wide as saucers and her whale project evolved along a whole new tangent.

That conversation made me wonder about what it is that our schools are teaching our children. Or, rather, what it is that our schools are not teaching.

My daughter and I ended up talking a great deal about whales, and out of those discussions came a promise that the following summer we would take a trip out east to see some real whales, up close and in the wild.

Not long after this discussion I received an invitation from World Wildlife Fund to build a showcase exhibit for the inaugural "Forest Leadership Forum" to be held in Atlanta, Georgia in April, 2002. Given that the show was focussed on protecting the world's forests, I was challenged to come up with a cool idea for a piece of furniture made of FSC certified wood.

For several months I vascillated with the idea of whether or not to even participate in the show. The events of 9/11 were still very much fresh in my mind, and the thought of flying anywhere wasn't holding much appeal for me.

By early 2002 I was still undecided on what to do, but now I was facing a deadline. I was stuck with the furniture designer's equivalent to writer's block. Nothing clever was manifesting in the way of ideas, although I had concluded that my furniture piece should be a desk of some kind.

Then one night I'm watching television and there's a program on about saving whales, and I see the actor Pierce Brosnan speaking on behalf of the whales.

I was already familiar with Brosnan because at that time he was also a spokesperson for FSC.

The connection of Brosnan to both whales and FSC suddenly melded with my idea for a desk, and everything came together in a flash: FSC + Whale + Desk.

Grabbing a pencil and a thin piece of cardboard I scribbled out a quick rendering of a desk based on what a whale's tail would look as it breeched in preparation for a deep dive. Cutting this out with scissors I then Scotch taped the pieces together into a crude scale model. The result was an actual miniature prototype, and the whole process probably took no more 15 minutes to do.

This model was then scaled into working drawings, and the woodworking process began. The main face of the torso and tail started as an oversized T-shape slab of 1-1/4" veneer core ply that was cross laminated with Macassar Ebony veneer. Relief kerfs were cut into the underside for bending the curve. Plywood offcuts were used to make elongated L-shaped vertical gables, with the 1" ply floor set into dadoes.

An anthracite grommet was inset into the top, to allow wiring to pass through to the vertebrae wire management column running vertically inside the torso of the desk. For stability the desk was engineered to be secured to the floor with lag bolts.

After a thorough sanding the exposed surfaces were finished in a high gloss low-VOC polyester finish to enhance the grain and give a glossy "wet look" to emulate a whale rising from the water.

The finished Whale Tail Desk was displayed at the "Forest Leadership Forum" in late April, 2002 along with a custom made Andiroba Credenza crafted from the same wood and finish.

A few months later our family travelled east to New Brunswick and took a long ferry ride to a remote island called Grand Manan, which lies just off the coast of Maine. We arrived on the island on August 6th and had advance reservations to go on a whale watching tour the following morning.

As we travelled around the island I soon learned from the locals that whale watching was not an exact science. Even in optimal summertime conditions such tours are highly dependent on the weather, the seas and the fog. I was told that in the previous 2 weeks hardly any tours had managed to make it out to sea because of heavy fog. And even when boats did make it out, there was no certainty of even seeing a whale - let alone seeing one up close.

I now felt concern that expectations for the trip might not unfold as planned. We had a wedding to attend in a couple of days, and our only opportunity to see whales would be the following morning. My daughter in particular was excited at the prospect of seeing a whale, and I did not wish to see her disappointed.

That night I took a walk to a small rise of land overlooking the sea. I prayed for good weather and silently called out into the darkness - asking for a whale to make an appearance the following day.

We arose before dawn and made our way to the harbour where a small converted lobster boat took us into the Bay of Fundy, to an area where whales traditionally feed. Luckily for us, the weather, the fog and the seas were all working in our favour, and conditions were nearly perfect.

After a bitterly cold 2 hour ride, the boat's captain spotted a pod of 6 or 8 whales on the horizon. He slowly eased to within about 1/2 mile of where these whales were, and shut off his engine. Now we had to wait, with cameras ready, scanning the horizon in anticipation of the whales coming to the surface. We didn't know when, or where, these creatures might appear.

For the next 20 minutes we enjoyed sporadic sightings of whales in the distance. These massive creatures would suddenly and unexpectedly emerge from the depths, then crash back into the sea with huge plumes of water and spray. Everyone was crowded to the starboard side of the boat, methodically snapping off frame after frame of film.

Given the unpredictability of the whales appearing on the horizon, I was snapping through an incredible amount of film in the vain hope that one of these shots might yield an incredible photo. At one point I stepped back from the group to change film when the most amazing and magical thing happened. Unbeknownst to any of us a huge Humpback Whale had quietly surfaced behind the boat. This whale didn't make a noise, and not one of us even noticed he was there.

As I busied myself with changing my film an odd feeling suddenly came over me. Casting a slow sidelong glance over the stern I found myself looking - no more than 10 feet away - right into one of eyes of this massive creature. In one brief moment I felt the whale say to me, as if telepathically, "you asked for me to appear. Here I am." Needless to say, as soon as I announced the whale's presence behind our boat everyone stampeded to the back for a better look.

The feeling of being small and powerless was overwhelming. Humpbacks can grow to a size of 40 tons, and if he wanted to this whale could easily have flipped our boat like a cork in the water. But this was not how things unfolded.

It was as if this whale had been waiting for us to show up, and he was floating patiently in the water until he was sure he had our undivided attention.

He slowly raised the top of his bumpy head out of the water, as if to confirm with his own ancient eyes that we were all watching. He then exhaled a huge, bushy spout of misty air with a sound not unlike that of an elephant's trumpet. And let me tell you, after a lifetime of eating seafood that fellow could definitely have used a breath mint. Children were giggling at how bad his breath smelled.

But the best was yet to come, and the only way to describe it would be to say that this whale grabbed this moment to, literally, seize the proverbial stage and ham it up for our cameras.

It was a most amazing few minutes of time, during which this wild mammal - of its own accord - decided to approach our boat in a manner that gave us both the time and the angles necessary to take some absolutely phenomenal photographs. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this whale was probably posing for some of the shots.

On our long ride back to the harbour I considered what might have motivated such an untamed creature to behave in this manner. I know that whales are highly intelligent, so on some instinctual level this individual would probably know that the greatest threats to its survival (i.e. pollution, collisions with ships, entanglement in fishing nets, and slaughter by commercial industry) all come from humans.

In spite of this, this whale took incredible risk to reach out and connect with us.

Perhaps, deep down, it was because this whale also realises that as much power as Man has to destroy, Man also has the power to change - and to protect. And maybe through connecting with us, this whale is also trying to secure his own future survival by sharing with us that feeling of oneness with him.

It would be easy to dismiss this magical moment was an isolated incident, a coincidence, or a figment of my imagination. But I do not believe this to be the case.

When we arrived on Grand Manan the day before, there was a story circulating amongst the locals about a Humpback Whale and her calf which had become entangled in fishing nets earlier in the week. Such entanglement is a guarantee of certain death for a whale, especially calves. To the amazement of the locals these two wild mammals instinctively swam right up to a research vessel and waited patiently on the surface of the water while deckhands used knives to cut away the netting. Somehow these whales intuitively knew what they needed to do in order to survive.

Life finds a way, and we should never underestimate the magic at work in Nature.

The natural world is clearly speaking to us. But the question is: Are we listening?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Kidney Shaped Desk - The Story Behind its Creation

In 2002 I began to dabble with ideas that would eventually manifest as the Kidney Shaped Desk. My initial concept was an organic form that would incorporate a variety of green and holistic elements. Given that Feng Shui principles consider a kidney shape to be most conducive for a desk, I used this as my starting point.

During a visit to Miami in April of that year I floated the idea to Amelia Hyde and Monroe Sherman, who were partners in a showroom called Carriage House representing my work in South Florida. Amy seemed quite receptive to the idea, which was no surprise given her interest in spiritual philosophies such as Tao and Zen Buddhism.

About a week after my return Amy called and asked me to explain more about the Ayurveda I was talking about during my visit. I didn't have a clue what she was referring to and told her I could barely pronounce the word, let alone spell it. But for some reason Amy insisted that I had talked at length about Ayurveda and as she described what it was about she mentioned the connection of Ayurveda to yoga, and the connection of yoga to a famous supermodel and yoga practitioner by the name of Christy Turlington.

As soon as she mentioned Christy's name I heard my fax line ring. It was an incoming fax from New York, from a furniture designer by the name of Vladimir Kagan. He was inviting me to a special party being held later that month. The invitation was for an event being hosted by Ralph Pucci in his Manhattan loft, which would be a joint unveiling of Vladimir Kagan's furniture pieces alongside a new line of yoga inspired clothing by Christy Turlington.

This was too weird of a coincidence, so I trusted my intuition and decided immediately to accept. Since the party coincided with a major New York design show called the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) that I was planning to attend anyway, the logistics worked out perfectly.

After arriving at the designated address in lower Manhattan I stepped out of the cab thinking I was in the wrong location. I had been told that Pucci's loft was magnificent, but the neighbourhood I was standing in was anything but. Nevertheless a discrete elevator ride to the loft soon confirmed that I was at the right place.

As soon as the elevator doors opened I was greeted with a palpable buzz of energy and excitment. Scattered throughout the 15,000 sq. ft. minimalist loft were countless bisque mannequins that were essentially full-scale reproductions of Christy Turlington herself. These mannequins were shown in a range of different yoga poses and, naturally, each was also attired in various examples of Christy's new clothing collection, called Nuala.

At the far end of the loft Vladimir Kagan was holding court amongst examples of his classic furniture collection. As soon as Vladimir saw me walk in he called me over and gave a big hug. It was wonderful to be greeted in this manner by such a design legend, because I had long admired his work.

When I was younger I used to enjoy reading various design publications to see examples of the most beautiful and exquisite furniture pieces ever made. A Rosewood desk by Vladimir Kagan had long been one of my favorites, and never could I have imagined at the time that one day I would be working with this icon to build some of his actual furniture.

As I walked around the loft and mingled with other guests I began to ponder the coincidence of being invited to this party. At one point I did get introduced to Christy, and did have a brief conversation with her. While our discussion did not provide any particular answer or overt moment of enlightenment for me, I was definitely struck by Christy's open sincerity and genuineness. She is one of the very few people I have ever met who have an aura of presence that absolutely radiates positive energy.

By the end of the evening I left party pondering the enigma of attending an event that displayed beautiful, sculptural furniture alongside an ancient holistic principle such as yoga. When considering Ayurveda as the thread connecting the two, how would it be possible to merge them together as one?

The answer, I soon discovered, lay with someone I already knew.

Diana Beresford-Kroeger is an award winning author, independent scientist and passionate environmentalist living near Ottawa, Canada. On a secluded rural property shared with her husband Christian, Diana has spent many years and considerable effort researching and documenting the interconnected relationships that exist between trees and forests, and the wildlife that abounds within.

She is highly regarding for her illuminating and seminal work, and amongst her many admirers are colleagues such as E.O. Wilson of Harvard. In the 1960s Wilson effectively became the founding grandfather of the global environmental movement when he first coined the phrase "bio-diversity".

I first learned about Diana in 1999 when I read a newspaper article describing her "Millenium Project". The vision of this project was to share and distribute seeds from Diana's collection of rare and endangered tree species. By doing this she hoped to establish new living examples of genetic strains that were at risk of becoming extinct.

In addition, by distributing these seeds widely it was also hoped that the resulting seedlings would become isolated pockets of bio-diversity, as well as a form of insurance policy in case disease, blight or other disaster happened to wipe out the sentinel trees that provided the original genetic material. Since in some cases there were only singular examples of these rare trees known to exist, this was a very valid and noble ambition.

Her "Millenium Project" sounded brilliant, and I contacted her to learn how I could participate. At the time I was in the planning stages of building a new shop, and the notion of introducing rare and unusual trees to the property seemed like a perfect one. Diana helped develop a bioplan for what I was intending to create, and over time our discussions evolved into an ever expanding exchange of ideas.

After my return from New York I continued to wrestle with the idea of how to meld holistic Ayurvedic principles with sculpture furniture design. Simultaneously I was talking with Diana about her latest book manuscript, entitled "Arboretum America". She was having great difficulty getting this book published, and in an effort to get the word out she went to great lengths describing what the book was intending to say.

I listened with great interest as Diana explained the book, and how each of the 20 tree species described within were presented by way of their biological eco-function within the larger global garden. My interest was piqued further as Diana explained how each tree had a particular holistic attribute, or "gift".

Apparently much of the information collected by Diana had originally come from Native American elders and healers. Her desire to document this traditional wisdom was driven by the fact that many of these elders were quite old, and once they died they would take their knowledge with them to the grave. Considering that most indigenous cultures base their information sharing and retention on oral tradition -with very little being written down - it was quite apparent that once this knowledge was lost it would be lost forever.

Eager to help Diana get her book published I invited her to an informal gathering that was to take place in Ottawa later that year, in conjunction with an FSC Canada board meeting being held there. Given that the event would be filled almost exclusively with people interested in protecting the forest, I felt certain that something beneficial for Diana would unfold.

On Saturday October 19th a number of us were gathered at the home of one of the Board members, who happened to live nearby. Diana and her husband Christian were in attendance as well, but before long it appeared that the evening would not unfold as hoped for.

After a day of intensive Board meetings most people were simply looking to unwind. Diana, on the other hand, was quietly eager to network and find means of clearing hurdles to her book. But aside from some polite discussion and general exchange of ideas no one was expressing any serious interest in her research. I felt disappointed that they may have wasted their time coming here.

At one point, however, one of the Board members was casually flipping through the manuscript when something caught her eye. In describing the medicine of a tree called Black Walnut (Juglans nigra), Diana had pointed out that this tree's active molecules (known scientifically as ellagitannins) were currently at the leading edge of ongoing research into finding a cure for cancer. Apparently Native American medicine women had discovered through many years of trial, error and observation that this tree's natural properties were helpful in preventing disease.

Within minutes several women were tightly huddled around the book, reading with intense fascination. I glanced over to where Diana and Christian were sitting, and exchanged a smile. Not only had a catalyst been found to suddenly pique interest in the manuscript but I too had discovered, by default, the vehicle for melding Ayurvedic principles with sculptural furniture design.

Why not create furniture that incorporated discrete inlays of holistic woods, and let these examples become a tangible and tactile means of communicating the same message that Diana was trying to say on paper?

In the months that followed my ideas surrounding this concept continued to swirl in my mind. Ultimately they became manifest in a design called the Kidney Shaped Desk. Using careful mathematics and sacred geometric proportions based on Feng Shui and Vastu Shastra principles, this desk was also designed to utilize discrete inlays of wood that were ultimately suited to their particular holistic attributes.

For example, special cuttings of Black Walnut would be used to make finger pulls on the underside of drawers. In this way the act of opening the drawers would allow the active molecules of the wood to come into contact with one's skin, where the molecules could be naturally absorbed into the pores. Inside the pencil drawer woods such as Hawthorn and Sassafras would be incorporated for their natural holistic and aroma-therapeutic properties. The scents of these woods would accumulate naturally inside the drawer while it was closed - and released each time the drawer was opened.

For the time that her manuscript remained unpublished, Diana asked me to sit on the information. Her concern was that if the knowledge was shared too early it might scuttle publication of the book. Out of respect, I complied. In the meantime the hiatus gave me ample opportunity to tweak and fine tune the proportions of the desk until everything was perfect.

It wasn't until the following year that Diana called to say that University of Michigan Press had committed to publishing her book. At this stage she also gave me the green light to proceed with the desk, and help communicate the medicinal knowledge of the trees.

"It's time", she said.

Although eager to see this design manifest into reality, I was in no financial position to undertake the building of a prototype simply because it seemed like a great idea. Unless a buyer could be found who would commit to buying the finished piece before it was made, this design would have to be shelved indefinitely.

Little did I know that within days a buyer would end up appearing, in the form of a design visionary by the name of Todd Marckese.

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 recognised 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 design. One of the pieces he was looking for was a desk, but it came with the proviso that his clients had strong holistic inclinations and, therefore, a conventional desk would not work.

As he described the parameters of the project my interest level piqued because it seemed the Kidney Shaped Desk design I had been tweaking for almost a year would meet the specifications perfectly. I faxed him the drawings and explained in detail the holistic attributes of the various woods I was intending to use as inlay.

After presenting the proposal to his clients, they fell in love with the idea and ended up commissioning the desk. The resulting piece measured 75" x 35" x 31-3/4" overall height.

The main structure was crafted from FSC certified ply, and laminated with Macassar Ebony veneer. The inset of black Tuscany leather was bordered with a radiating grain pattern of wood that was cut to allow it to cascade like a waterfall down the vertical sides of the apron. The plinths on the legs were satin stainless steel.

Inset into the back of the desk were 3 drawers crafted from solid cherry. These drawers were mounted to the Macassar drawer fronts my means of sliding dovetail construction.

Inside the pencil drawer was a pair of trays made of a wood called Sassafras (Sassafras albidum). Sassafras carries within it an oil based complex of compounds that are naturally saturated within the wood itself - both as a wax and as oil. Through handling and the bumping action of contents (i.e. pencils and pens) rolling against the fibers of this wood, the oils contained within the Sassafras are released as an aerosol each time the tray is opened and exposed to air.

The oil of the Sassafras is related to Myrrh, one of the legendary woods of the ancient world. Sassafras is also the wood used for spiritual cleansing by many tribes of North American indigenous peoples, in the traditional sweat lodge ceremony.

Centered between the trays is a small storage compartment crafted from a block of rare wood known as Hawthorn (Crataegus). Hawthorn is a traditional healing wood that has been used in medicinal practice for a considerable period of time. It was well known to the ancient Greek herbalists, and records indicate that it has been used in Ayurvedic medicine dating back almost 5,000 years.

Hawthorn is an aroma-therapeutic healing wood since it produces an aerosol of complex compounds - all of which are medicinal. The primary benefit of the aroma-therapeutic properties of the Hawthorn is to help alleviate stress and strengthen the heart. According to Diana Beresford-Kroeger this aerosol is considered to be a tonic to the human body, since it helps to promote an overall feeling of well-being. This state increases the ability of the deep centers of the brain to promote increased and clearer thinking.

The Hawthorn storage compartment was covered with a lid that was crafted from the same cutting of Black Walnut used to make the inlaid finger pulls on the underside of the drawers. Set into the face of the lid were inlays of the three traditional healing metals of gold, silver and copper. Working with a jeweller these precious metals custom crafted into the shapes of an Eagle, Turtle and the sacred Tree of Life, respectively.

Collectively these 3 images tell the aboriginal story of Creation, which is essentially a parable that tells of the emergence into the current world after the previous one was destroyed by a great Flood.

Flood legends are found in the mythology of most ancient civilizations; from the Sumerians, Babylonians and Egyptians of the Middle East, to India, China and in the Americas in the myths of the Mayans, Aztecs, Hopi and numerous other Native American tribes. In Western society the most recognised of these legends is the story of Noah and the Ark, as recounted in Biblical story of Genesis.