Elm Burl by Jerry Crowe
When I set outside, in front of the burl pile the loggers have left, everything else in my life falls away. I study these knotty hunks of week, some weighing up to a 1000 pounds, before choosing one to rough-cut with my chain saw.
Its’ a matter of feeling my way inside the wood with my mind. I notice the high spots and wormholes. Imagine the texture, how the pattern of grain runs, and where the bark will best leave a balanced, natural edge. Take from the Missouri Ozarks around my home, I have my pick of oak, cherry, maple, box elder, walnut, and sycamore.
Even when two burls come off the same tree, their grain weaves different patterns, which affects the final shape of a piece. And like a diamond cutter, if I get it wrong, I’ve ruined the whole think.
As the lathe turns and the chisel slings off ribbons of week, a thrill runs through me. I follow the colors and patterns rising out of the grain, for it is nature, not I, that decides the shape of a piece.
At this stage, the burl is green and wet, so I leave an extra thickness of wood. To keep it from cracking, I brush on hot paraffin and set the hollow form in a kiln for weeks of slow drying. When a piece is dry, I turn it again, captivated by how the lathe persuades the rough wood to turn smooth, how it coaxes the beauty of Mother Nature into full bloom.
Next, I inlay my signature mixture of crushed, semiprecious stones – lapis, turquoise, or malachite – into the natural holes and cracks of a piece. I sand this down until the colored accents seem to grow right out of the wood.
In the end, each piece soaks in a special oil mixture, dries, and is re-dipped four more times. After that, I buff it with rouge – the same polish used for gold and silver – and then a final layer of wax.
As much as I love creating each sculptured turning, my real joy comes when I bring one out of the studio, signed and numbered, and place it in your hands.
When you stand there, caressing the satin-smooth curve of wood, which feels warm and soft as a baby’s skin, and your face lights up with a smile.