Furniture designer Max Lamb has stunned us again with his ambitious efforts to transform a 187-year-old ash tree from his grandfather’s farm into a powerful and poetic work of art. In ‘My Grandfather’s Tree,’ Lamb preserves an ash tree—cut down because of rot—in the form of useful furnishings that still retain the tree’s original character. Currently on display at the Somerset House for the London Design Festival, the art installation explores our connection with wood after the tree’s been felled and how living organisms, like trees, can be transformed into objects that may have little in common with its original state.
“Wood lasts for a very long time but has lost its origins,” said Lamb at the opening of the exhibit. The ash tree, which had stood on his grandfather’s 150-acre Monckton Walk Farm in Yorkshire since 1872, held significant sentimental value for Lamb, who often visited the farm as a child. When tree surgeon Jon Turnbull had to cut the tree down for safety reasons, Lamb decided the ash should have a second life beyond its rooted 187 year existence and be celebrated for its potential, rather than be turned into firewood.
He cut the tree into 131 individual sections and left intact the joints and knots. Each piece was cut to the rough height of a stool or a small table, so that the wood units could one day become a functional part of an interior, suitable for what Lamb’s Grandfather would call “general purpose” use. The ash tree’s rings, says Lamb, speak of its identity, its age, climatic history, and even geographical location, and he wanted to make sure that all this unique information was not lost.
Lamb dried the wood sections for over seven years. Each piece is sanded and covered with two coats of wood oil to make them heat and water-resistant. “They maintain all the information that you can see in the cross section,” said Lamb. Every piece is numbered and logged and are laid out in Somerset House in the original order in which they grew. This shows that they remain all very much connected to one another, says Lamb, and this will continue when they are sold and become a part of other people’s homes: “They will all be connected and that is a very important part of the project.”
Photos by Helen Morgan for Inhabitat