With an approval from the Board to proceed, I began to obtain materials and prepare to make the Tree of Life wall display.
I began with making the parts that comprised the tree. The tree is made of a set of walnut parts that fit together to form branches, limbs, the trunk, and the root system. I used a full size drawing of the tree to capture an outline of each part onto tracing paper, and then transferred that outline onto walnut boards. Each part was cut out using a scroll saw, and shaped by hand to round the edges and get the look I was after. Mid-way through the process, I began to wish I hadn't drawn so many parts, but the reward came as the full picture of the tree began to fall into place.
The next step was to make the background panel. Wood selections for the sky and horizon were straightforward. Light-colored holly and tupelo formed the sky in a pie-match pattern to mimic a rising sun. The Blue Ridge mountains came from European walnut, mahogany, and butternut in a dark to light horizon line. Below the mountains is a thin horizontal line grass, represented by dyed-green birch, the only material in the project that is not its natural color.
Wood selections for the ground use walnut burl for the top soil layer. An extensive search found camphor burl to be the perfect look for deep soil.
The large size of the display makes it impressive to see, but difficult to make. It measures 52 inches by 52 inches. Putting together a veneer sheet of this size is risky because a variety of things can go wrong when glueing-up and pressing a large piece like this in a vacuum press. It's risky enough pressing a large dining table, but being a large sheet of marquetry with a hundred-or-so pieces added other things that could go wrong. Fortunately, the glue-up and press went well, leading to the work of removing veneer tape from the successfully glued-up surface.
Once the background was sanded, I found a few places where the glue didn't adhere well. They were easy to repair and I was ready to begin finishing work.
Finishing is simultaneously the best and worst part of doing a project. The best part is applying the first coat and seeing the true wood colors for the first time. The colors become more vibrant, and burls show their amazing beauty. The worst part, is that's the beginning of repetitive steps of sanding and laying down another coat until the chore of finishing is complete. But it's an important chore that can make or break a project.
Finishing for the tree parts was done with spray lacquer before they were glued to the background. This allowed the finish on all surfaces to be clean and crisp, with no mess at the interface between tree parts and background.
Installing the display at the Hospice Support office went smoothly. Their office is on 5th Street in Old Town Warrenton, VA. Their intent with this display was to add leaves engraved with the names of people important to the organization. With this in mind, my proposal suggested the possibility of adding two side panels in the future for additional space if the center panel filled. With the main panel installed, I soon received a request to proceed with the side panels, even though no leaves had yet been added. Several weeks later the side panels were installed. Since then, leaves have been added, along with a variety of marquetry birds that are flying through the sky.
Part 1 of this post began with the short list of good things that can happen in a project. First on that list was getting to know a new customer. The people at Hospice Support are wonderful. They love their display....CHECK.
Next is making something that's out of the ordinary. This doesn't get to happen for a lot of projects, but this display was anything but ordinary....CHECK.
Third is learning new techniques. Again, this doesn't happen with every project, but the tree parts called for learning a discipline similar to intarsia...CHECK.
Finally, the best thing, on the short list of good things that can happen in a project, is creating something that's meaningful. This display carries meaning to everyone at Hospice Support. It is meaningful to the people recognized through the leaves and birds that decorate it. And for me, it was one of the most meaningful things I've had the privilege to make....CHECK!