The steam chamber
I am officially halfway through my ten-week residency at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village, CO., so I thought it would be a good time to share a little bit of what I’ve been up to. One intention I had for this residency was to return to a body of work that I have put on hold for a couple of years–I really wanted to continue steam bending.
The process interests me as an act of energy transference. When I bend heated wood, I actually manipulate the cellular structure of the material. A nerve impulse from my brain tells the muscle fibers in my arm to contract, moving the fibers of the wood over one another. The energy of my body blends into the material. The material reacts, remembers. A bent piece of wood is a relic of this exchange.
One bent piece might be enough for me to convey this idea, but bending multiple pieces makes the process a ritual. Steam bending is a time-sensitive task; the wood is exposed to steam for one hour per inch of thickness, and then there are only a couple of minutes to get the wood into its new form before it cools and hardens. For this to happen smoothly, I need to use the clock as a tool, and be there at the ideal moment… every time.
This ritual adds a character of its own to the documented exchange of energy in each bent piece of wood. A piece comprised of more than eighty pieces of bent ash lumber—tapered and joined together into a single entity—contains a rich history: A tree dies and falls in a storm, is recognized by a craftsman who becomes its caretaker, is taken to a one-man mill to be thoughtfully cut into ideal sections for building, is air-dried on the caretaker’s property, is sought after by a neighbor (a maker) with whom it shares a friendly exchange of energy—piece, after piece, after piece.
Now for the next chapter, in which I show you the result of this exchange…
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.
we tried bringing the truck down the hill, but it was too slick..
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.
Welcome to my new website! It’s been about two years since I’ve made an update–so it’s about time…
Many many thanks to my brother, Jaymz, who has helped me all along as my web administrator. My previous website was of his own design. He is a true craftsman of code, and I really admire the supreme care he puts into his work and family life. Thanks for being there to help, brother. Hopefully with this new platform I can be more independent, stop bugging you about updates, and let you focus on your work, your wife, and my beautiful nephew.
Here are some things to look for on my new site:
Please remember to stop by frequently, as I will be posting new items more often. Thank you all for your continued support of my work.