Grow Your Own Chair
If taking a rough sawn plank of timber, breaking it down into parts, only to then reassemble into a new configuration, now with the addition well-thought-out joins, bends and curves to offer function and ergonomics… seems like a lot of work. Well, the good news is that you can grow your own furniture, with a handful of years up your sleeve and some careful plant manipulation; you can bypass the entire traditional logging, milling, drying and manufacturing process.
The technique known as Arbor Sculpture’ is the art of growing and guiding the trunks of trees as they grow. Grafting, bending and pruning the trees while they’re grow into shapes either decorative or functional (i.e. furniture). The process relies on the ability of plants/trees to be joined together through grafting and then to retain their new form as new layers of wood form to set them in shape. Grafting is achieved by wounding two or more parts of a tree or trees by cutting off the bark, to the cambium layer and then binding the wounded parts together so good contact is maintained while the parts of the tree grow and fuse together.
The practice dates back centuries, first documented in the 500-year-old miniature painting by Jean Perréal in which an angel is depicted sitting on a lavish (and very psychedelic) “living” chair. The earliest existing example (another chair) was planted by John Krubsack of Embarrass, Wisconsin, in 1903. “Dammit, one of these days I am going to grow a piece of furniture that will be better and stronger than any human hands can build,” he told a friend. Twelve years later he debuted his “Chair That Grew” at the 1915 World’s Fair in San Francisco. The Bilbo Baggins–esque throne—replete with ornamental backrest, armrests, and a six-branch seat—was an instant hit, garnering numerous newspaper articles and running repeatedly in Ripley’s Believe It or Not. And the modern age of arbor sculpture was born.
Two interesting individuals who are growing furniture using these methods of are Arbor Sculpture are:
“Growing furniture isn’t going to save the planet, but it can show that it’s possible to create genuinely useful things without adding to the pollution that industry inevitably seems to produce. Trees are self-generating, and the only energy needed is that which the sun provides worldwide. It’s free and it’s non-polluting. Training and grafting trees are established traditional crafts, and wood is durable but it’s also biodegradable. So when a wooden object is no longer wanted, it doesn’t have to end up in a hole in the ground. So let’s do whatever we can to encourage the revival of such simple and ecologically sound methods, and to promote and encourage new thought along these lines.” Dr. Chris Cattle
“Full Grown are at the cutting edge of an emerging art form, an art form that highlights an interesting way to be closer to art and nature and to create symbiotic abundance for both.
Challenging the way we create products as well as how we see the items with which we surround ourselves, the Grown Furniture has an immediate tactile, visceral and organic appeal.”
With a wait time of around 5 years plus, it’s not a process for the impatient. But it does show, that with a lot of time and some careful planning you can grow an organic and fascinating piece of furniture that functions… maybe better then one with traditional joinery…. Maybe?