Beneath the Bark: Creativity Flowers in the Ashes

Over the last decade and a half, The Rockies have been plagued by pine beetles, a species of insect that used to die off during cold winters. As the climate has warmed, the beetles now survive the winters and are devastating forests and changing the landscape. This has left massive swaths of dead timber and many companies and entrepreneurs are finding creative uses for the amazing wood, that takes on a blue tint from the beetles.

Photo courtesy Mountain Pine Beetle in Alberta. http://mpb.alberta.ca/
Photo courtesy Mountain Pine Beetle in Alberta

ZEAL Optics remodelled their offices with pine beetle kill and are crafting their display cases from it. At Frisco, Colorado’s A & J Bible, Jasmine Bible is digging even deeper, going Beneath The Bark to craft a unique line of furniture.

ZEAL caught up with Jaz, an amazing interior and furniture designer, to learn more about her craft.

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“At my core, I’m an artist and an entrepreneur. While my love of design and furniture restoration has been a central theme in my life, living among the devastation — and the underlying beauty — of the beetle kill for the last three years inspired me to believe something had to be done with these trees.

In a way, upcycling these fallen and dying trees was synonymous with my other work…taking old or dying furniture and giving it new life. Of course I’m not alone in my inspiration. Many of our mountain co-dwellers have been inspired by these relics, harvesting their bounty to make snowboards, countertops, and siding. But what inspired me was their true natural beauty, the varying hues of blues and intricate detailing they were left with and which can come alive in their afterlife. From death comes life.

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Inspiration

I grew up in a town so ensconced in trees that it bore the name Evergreen.

Blue spruce, pine and fir trees scattered the backdrop of my youth. These strong, proud, plentiful creatures were such an integral part of the mountain landscape that I nearly took them for granted.

In 1996, an intruder threatened to destroy the beauty that I had become so accustomed to. Mountain Pine Beetle, a species of bark beetle, began to ravage the Rocky Mountains, claiming millions of ponderosa and lodgepole pine trees. This minuscule monster, often no larger than a grain of rice, decimated an estimated 400,000 acres in 2013 alone.

Like deep bruises on Earth’s surface, scattered patches of aubergine-hued trees pepper the mountain sides in Summit County and beyond. These fallen trees that sprinkle the forest in my backyard are hard to ignore. I live nestled against the Ten Mile Mountain Range in Frisco, Colorado, an area that’s been hit especially hard.

On daily treks with my dogs, we pass through tumbled trees that range in shape and size, all whose demise came too soon.

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Opportunity

As an artist, I saw the opportunity to utilize this abundant material, while honoring these trees, and enhancing their natural beauty. In an almost ironic twist, when I began to remove the bark from the trees, I found an incredible gift that the beetles left to be discovered. These infiltrators leave behind intricate carvings, hieroglyphic-like patterns that stream down the bark in swirling chaotic patterns. I began to revel in this beauty that lies below the bark, and began my first foray into beetle kill furniture.

I began to develop my Beneath The Bark series in the summer of 2013. The collection now includes a line of Tree Tables, Bookends and Air Plant Vessels. I approach each piece with respect and intrigue. I let the varying tones of the wood dictate my direction. If the shades of blue created from the blue stain fungus that the beetles introduce are vibrant, I might enhance them with a clear high gloss polyurethane, or choose to add contrast with a whitewash pickling stain.

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The tree tables were my first creation, juxtaposing the natural, rustic grain against highly polished and glossy finishes. I now offer four different finishes and styles of tables that can be utilized as end tables, side tables, additional seating or foot stools. The bookends came next, as a study in different forms a tree can take. I like the idea of books and pages, created from trees, being bound together by another tree creation, the bookends.

As I was cutting the tables and bookends, pieces of wood would splinter and break apart, and I was left with remnants that were interesting in their own right. Wanting to salvage these small bits and scraps, I began crafting air plant holders, enjoying the synchronicity of a living plant residing within these departed trees.

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Utilization

I hope to continue to expand this line of beetle kill pine furniture and accents, creating custom installations and larger scale projects. Along with fellow artists, woodworkers and craftsmen, we are striving to make the most of a sorrowful situation. By embracing this material and crafting new uses, we are not only utilizing this resource, but we are teaching ourselves to view this devastation in a new light. Additionally, removing the fallen trees aids in fire mitigation. Until a viable treatment is found, this epidemic will continue to claim our precious forests.”

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Reblogged from the ZEAL Optics Tumblr.

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