While in Ohio for the holidays, I stopped by my friend Jack Esslinger’s house to pick up some wood for my upcoming residency at Anderson Ranch. He had quite a bit of white oak and ash (both excellent species for steam bending), milled from local trees. Jack isn’t in the business of selling his lumber, but he was nice enough to let me purchase some boards that might not have been as useful to him for his own projects. He’s an exceptional craftsman, and is someone who has inspired me to do what I do. In fact, the majority of steam bent sculptures I have done thusfar have been made with white oak from his property. We had to pull the wood on toboggans through about eight inches of freshly fallen snow to get it up to the house, where our truck was parked.
The wood is perfect for me. It is quarter-sawn, which provides me with the long, straight grain figure needed to achieve strong bends with minimal breakage. Jack also air dries the wood himself, storing the stickered piles in the fields surrounding his house. Air drying the wood means it will retain a higher moisture content than it would if it were kiln dried (today’s industry standard). A higher moisture content means that heat energy will be transferred more thoroughly throughout the board during the steaming process, resulting in more successful bends.
I love working with materials I can relate to. The fact that every aspect of this material is local to my Ohio home—grown, felled, milled, dried/stored, and bought from a friend—makes it ever more meaningful for me when I set my hands upon it. The vivacity of the lumber reflects its Ohio roots, and the sensitivity of its caretaker, Jack. These are qualities I can know and touch. These are qualities I hope to maintain in the finished work.