Arts and Entertainment

Tree Project open at Whatcom Museum of History & Art

Courtesy of Whatcom Museum of History & Art

Artists Andrew Vallee and Wesley Smith understand the need for wood as a raw material. It is the basis of their work. Yet they also value ecologically sound forests, and they believe the world can have both. Culminating a three-year effort to explore this issue, the artists present Andrew Vallee and W. A. Smith: The Tree Projeet, through Oct. 20, 2002, at the Whatcom Museum of History & Art in Bellingham. Smith and Vallee are 1990 graduates of Oak Harbor High School.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is a single big leaf maple tree (Acer macrophyllum), which Vallee and Smith carefully selected and sustainably harvested from the River Farm on the south fork of the Nooksack River northeast of Bellingham. The goal was to transform one tree into a collection of fine furniture, with the entire process documented and carried out locally.

“Since we work with wood, we felt a strong desire to experience the entire cycle for ourselves,” explains Vallee. “This project brings full circle the processing of one tree from a living organism in a forest to the finished products that we live with every day.”

Vallee and Smith worked closely with River Farm, which is a co-operative owned by the Evergreen Land Trust, to select an appropriate tree. They hired a local logger to harvest the tree with minimal impact to the surrounding forest. The lumber was milled in Ferndale before delivery to their wood shop in Bellingham. Smith Woodworks, for the long process of crafting the raw wood into furniture.

Vallee and Smith carefully charted the location of each board as it was milled. A two-inch-thick slice through the entire length of the trunk was cut to form a continuous line from the base to the top. These boards became a series of 10 benches. The branches will be suspended from the gallery’s ceiling to represent the tree’s canopy. This main sculpture will be surrounded by more than 30 pieces of furniture built from the tree’s wood, including a bedroom set, a bar and several tables. The furniture was designed and built to express the unique character of the tree by including its live edge in each piece.which along with the branches recreate the tree within the installation at the Whatcom Museum.

“The tree appears as though it stood before the viewer and fell into furniture,” says Smith.

The exhibition includes more than 30 pieces of furniture created from this single tree, such as a bedroom and dining set. The furniture was designed and built to express the unique character of the tree by incorporating its live edge in each piece.

The surrounding walls tell the story of the tree itself through an historical timeline. The seed that produced the II8-year-old maple took root in 1882. As the tree matured, the lives and events of the Nooksack Indians, as well as the area’s first pioneers passed before it. A selection of images from the Whatcom Museum’s photo archives, including priints by Darius Kinsey, Jack Carver and J.W. Sandison, illustrate the early days of logging. This historical perspective includes the natural history of the tree, as well as the land on which it grew, and the human history of those who worked and lived among the timber.

The exhibit also features black and white photographs by Gunther Jos6 Frank documenting the tree’s harvest in 2000, and its transformation into furniture.

“Our shop is Smart Wood certified and we believe it is important to educate the public about the benefits of sustainable forestry,” Vallee asserts.

Numerous special programs tare scheduled hrough the run of the exhibition as forestry and environmental experts discuss the many issues involved. A Web site, at contains background information about the exhibit, as well as color images of the entire furniture collection.

The Whatcom Museum of History & Art is located at 121 Prospect Street in Bellingham. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free. The Tree Project is sponsored by River Farm, Evergreen Land Trust, Zanzara User Experience, Daylight Properties, Stewart + King Partnership, The G.R. Plume Company and Environmental Home Center.

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