I finished a new “sculpture” today. Okay, it’s mostly just a log I found in the river and which had been cut down by a beaver. When I was a kid my dad had a beaver-chewed piece of wood which he turned into art by affixing a brass plaque which read “Canada’s First Sculpture”. Very post-modern.
I found my log in a pile of driftwood on the Bow River near my house. I’ve had it in my basement for a few years. Every so often I would look at it and think about what I would make with it. I pulled out the log a few weeks ago and had it sitting near the stairs so it would always be in my periphery. I always need to think about a piece for a good long while before it starts to take shape.
I considered putting a brass plaque on my log, in homage to my father. I was at the mall this week and almost went into the engraving shop to order something up, but I still couldn’t think what I wanted it to say.
When thinking about the log, my mind always bent to where it came from and to the industrious rodent who cut it. What kind of tree did it come from? Why did it drift away? How long had it been in the river? Single words, like forest, and wood, where all that came to mind.
Then last evening, after a long day out at the cabin clearing the snow from the road, and collecting wood, my muscles weary, and my mind tired, I walked past the log sitting on the floor. As I looked at it I plainly saw the words forest and home in large, dark, block letters on the surface of the log. I had my idea. I tried out a few different typestyles on my computer and settled on Blackmoor, a blackletter font, for its blocky yet calligraphic shapes. I would use a wood-burner to brand the words into the log.
At first I had it in my mind that I would do very little to alter the surface of the log. However, looking closer at it on my workbench, I realized that the log was, well, rather dirty. Driftwood is not treated well. I used a wire-wheel on a small grinder to remove the surface dirt. I wasn’t satisfied. I sanded away the remaining dirt and grinder marks. As I did so interesting coloration came to the surface: purple algae, yellow wood, brown bark remnants. I smoothed the log with a spokeshave and then sanded and buffed the log to a glossy shine. It was really coming together. I used a wire brush on the ends of the log to remove the deeply entrenched dirt while trying to preserve the beaver’s dental marks that are the logs signature.
With a clean log, its wooden heart now fully exposed, I started carving the words onto alternate sides using a wood-burner. I love the smell of burning wood. The smoke smell lingering in the air and on my hands.
In the last step of transforming the log into a work of art I polished the surface with carnuba wax, again being careful to only lightly touch the gnawed ends.
I’m quite happy with the finished piece. It will sit nice on a cabinet, coffee table, or even the floor. The wood is natural, the words graphic and societal. Something that began life as a part of the forest, was cut down by an industrious animal for food or shelter, escaped in the chaotic mess of spring floods, was found amongst the debris and detritus of neglected nature in the centre of the Big City, and was turned into a symbol of usefulness and a reminder of the gifts that surround us.