Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tobacco Tree #9

My passion is working with wood, and sinse coming to Arizona I've discovered some very interesting specimens.  I have collected over fifty different woods, mainly from the local desert.  A valuable resource I have used in this quest is the field guide,"Woody Plants of the Southwest" by Samuel H. Lamb.  It has descriptive text, drawings and photographs of the many plants in this area as well as range maps showing the location of concentrated growth of specific plants.  This book shows a copyright of 1989, but I found the information accurate and extremely helpful.  The one drawback is it's lack of color, but when color is necessary I refer to, "A Field Guide To The Plants Of Arizona" by Anne Orth Epple.  Beautiful colored photography is supplied by Lewis E. Epple.

I would like to focus on one particular plant in this post, the Tobacco Tree.  I had always associated tobacco with the low growing, big leaf plant grown commercially in the southern states.  In fact, my grandfather who liked to experiment, grew one or two tobacco plants of this variety on his Montana ranch when I lived there as a young boy.  The concept of a tobacco tree was completely foreign to me until I saw one in Arizona.  They are considered large weeds here and show up along roads or disturbed areas of soil.  A specimen grew to about twenty feet in height,  in an area where the septic drain field for our new home had been installed.  I cut it down and boxed the wood to cure for future use.  The larger diameter pieces have a central hole with wick like growth, that transports moisture and food to the upper reaches of the tree as it grows.  (see photo of a section of my tobacco wood below)

The tobacco tree is native to South America and was introduced in the United States but escaped cultivation.  It now can be found where the birds plant the seeds in the southern parts of California, Arizona and New Mexico in elevation below 3,000 feet.

The plant contains an alkaloid (nicotine) said to be poisonous if swallowed.  An insecticide produced by brewing the product is effective on aphids.  The plant is also being investigated for the production of bio fuel.

The Tobacco has long green leaves and the blossoms are long, tubular in shape with a yellow green color. (see photo right)                         

                                                               Wood from my Tobacco Tree is still in the box.  I have no plan as yet for a vessel that this wood might complement, but with my thinking focused on the Tobacco Tree, a design may now come to mind.  The anti-smoking concept might be a place to start.  Tobacco is a killer and I saw the death scenario play out with an office partner and  friend of mine.  I was smoking sporadically at the time and trying to get rid of a hacking cough.  When I realized what was happening I stopped and haven't smoked since.  This is another reason this Tree is significant for me.  If anyone has an idea for an artistic use of this wood I'll give you credit in literature developed about the art.  To get a flavor of the type of art I do, take a look at my book, Unique Vessels... shown on my web site;  Thanks.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Cholla Heaven #8

My wife, JoAnn and I moved to Arizona in 1998.  I had taken an administrative job at one of the community college's branch campuses.  We had been in the state for short workshops and meeting, but never for any length of time.  The landscape seemed quite harsh to us compared to the Pacific Northwest or specifically the Spokane area where we had been living.  So many types of cacti and all with spines that wouldn't let go once you made contact. The giant saguaros were very impressive and easily avoided,  but there were many other types that seem to jump at you if you got close to them.  The cholla cactus has many varieties with one named "jumping cholla".  Other varieties include buck horn, cane,  common and stag horn.  One type had the name, "chain fruit", because the round seed pods hung in strings like grapes.

The appearance of the cholla plant didn't impress us and this scrubby bush covers vast areas of the arid southwest.  It can give the cattleman problems when it invades pasture land.  Then we experienced a pleasant surprise.  The cholla blooms are different in color on different bushes and while some are a pale and uninteresting, while others are vivid reds, magenta's and rusty tones.   Our impression of the cholla improved when it was pointed out that it's fruit is eaten by a wide variety of birds and desert animals.  Further, the plant provides  protection for birds and small animals.  I guess it would be like the deserts version of the brier patch in the old fable of Barer Rabbit.        

The exciting thing about cholla is the wood it leaves behind when it dies.   The small dead branches are hollow, with a network of lenticular holes.   This gives the cured stick a lace-like appearance.  The wood is tough and hard, suitable for use as a cane.  I have enjoyed working with it and will show a few examples at the end of this post.   When the stick is cut across into small segments, the cut surface resembles flower petals.  Cholla now plays a significant part in my art work and there seems to be a never ending supply.which most people are pleased to be rid of.

It's amusing how our likes and dislikes changed with time and additional information.  JoAnn and I decided to retire and stay in Arizona.  What we had perceived as a harsh landscape has turned into an interesting and unique place to live.  We sold our retirement property in California's wine country north of San Francisco and now live in Cholla Heaven adjacent to Tucson, Arizona.

Cholla Teapot

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

e/P Vessels I #7

The common dictionary definition for vessel is a type of hollow container used for holding liquids.  What then is an e/P vessel?

Over the past thirty years of my artwork career I have created numerous vessels, but few ever were intended to hold liquids.  At this point I am planning a series of vessels that will meet the criteria of holding liquids.  But what is this c/P business?  In a way it notes my wish to join in the movement to clean up our environment;  to join in the green movement;  to save the planet.  Whee! I got a little carried away there, but seriously,  think of the tons of glass and plastic containers that go in the dump every day.  Yes, I know there has been some progress made with recycling these items, but there is plenty of room for others to join in and that is what I intend to do with my new series of vessels.

By now you may have figured it out.  The "e" in the description of my new series stands for all those empty containers on their way to the dump.  It is a huge amount of refuse.  I have chosen a small e because of the small impact my plan will have on the overall situation.  Not to diminish any effort, remember "a long journey starts with the first step".

Now for the "P".  That may be somewhat harder to decode, so let me lay it out for you.  My vessels will include an "empty" container as the core element and with creative treatment around it, will evolve into a "Precious" container that holds liquid.  I want to emphasise the creative treatment around the core so all e/P vessels don't resemble a wine bottle shape with a few frills.  Let me illustrate what I envision as a creative treatment with the following evolutionary steps of my first e/P vessel.

1.  Plan your work and work your plan.

2. Styrofoam fit around bottle.

3.After shaping Styrofoam and applying
a protective coating, cover entire surface
with fiberglass cloth.


4. Attach wood segments and
grout spaces between.

5.  After final sanding apply two
coats of oil finish.  When completely
dry apply two wax coats buffing each.

6.  Fashion a top stopper with cork attached.
Sign the bottom and e/P I is finished.

 This description does not cover all steps in
 detail, but should give an idea what a creative
 finish around the container could entail.  For a
 more complete treatment of this process refer to
 my book:
 "Unique Vessels: How Do You Make These Things?"
 It is featured in my blog,