Update from the Ranch

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.

bent ash

bent ash

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…