Jackie's Piece



Materials: American Chestnut

Dimensions: 30 X 20 X 7


A friend of mine who had stopped by the deck said I should do more to explain the stories behind the pieces. I disagreed with him believing that it’s a visual language and that a piece should speak for itself without a literal explanation. So now of course, I am going explain some of the story behind this piece.
Years ago, in the late sixties Jackie and I on one of our wonderful hikes in northern Michigan came upon a clearing in the forest. Jackie actually stopped walking. I thought it was just the beauty of the wildflower prairie ahead of us. But she said she though that a beautiful large tree ahead of us in the meadow was an American chestnut. I (Mr. Know it all.) Said “O no, honey, all the American chestnut trees were killed years ago in a terrible infestation”. No she had seen an American chestnut tree before. So we gathered up some leaves and took it to a nature center in Chicago where they verified that it was indeed an American chestnut tree. This became like our special secret (although in fact many besides us knew of the tree)… No hike anywhere near that tree would not have a visitation.
Then somewhere in the nineties the tree became ill or just old and slowly (starting at the bottom) the limbs began to die. Still it hung on until only the branches on the top were alive with its beautiful leaves.
I had been wrong to say that the blight killed all the American chestnuts, the blight which had been introduced from Asiatic chestnut trees around 1904 did indeed kill as many as 3 billion trees (yes that’s billions not millions). What a loss what a tragedy… Yet some of the trees had natural resistance to the blight. And many of these trees were in northern Michigan in fact it’s estimated there are 300 to 500 mature trees in northern Michigan. There is hope, that from these naturally resistant trees the American chestnut can be returned to its former days of glory
Somewhere around 2005 that old American chestnut tree finally died. Later, unknown to me a large section at the top had broken off in a high wind.

This summer, I had planned to expand a small piece called “Busy Mobius” (which is on the web site if anyone is interested in seeing it) I needed clear stock about 30 by 20 by 7in. thick. A difficult size to obtain and I wasn’t having any luck. Mahogany would’ve been my first choice but I can only get it 4in. thick planks. Walnut or cherry would be excellent but none seem to be available that large. And to work directly from a log as I usually do would have been technically almost impossible on this particular shape. I went to see a student and friend who has a small sawmill and he suggested the American chestnut. Of course this please me no end when he said that indeed it was on his property. Somehow he managed to haul the broken log section on to his mill and cut a large rectangular peace in perfect proportions to the small model.
Now, let me be completely clear here, this piece started out as a fairly straightforward project-enlarging and modifying a small piece that I had completed in Tucson last winter. It had nothing to do with abstracting Jackie’s physical appearance (although she was very beautiful). Nor did it have anything to do with extracting her personality although she was very very nice. In fact I didn’t even have a concept of doing it in American chestnut. A wood I had never even carved (for obvious reasons.) In fact I never even considered dedicating it to Jackie; had I finished the piece in the summer I probably wouldn’t even have made the connection. But because it took the longer than I had expected, I decided to finish the piece in Tucson (which did have a nice symmetry to it) and while driving on the very roads that she and I had driven so many times in our hiking and camping excursions….. The idea of dedicating the American Chestnut piece to her occurred to me and I knew with my brain that it was a very bad idea and that I was of course going to do of it any ways