An installation with a rather charming family-based backstory is what first interested us in the My Grandfather’s Tree project by designer Max Lamb. This is being exhibited at Somerset House, as part of the venue’s contribution to this year’s London Design Festival.
In collaboration with Gallery Fumi, Lamb has repurposed wood from a tree next to his grandfather’s cottage in in Yorkshire into simple pieces of furniture in an artful and considered way.
He explains the background to the installation, “Throughout my childhood I spent most holidays at the farm helping my grandfather with all sorts of farming duties and general maintenance jobs.” One such project was converting a disused cattle shed into a two-bedroom cottage. Next to this stood, until recently, a large tree. Continues Lamb, “Its largest branch had died and begun to rot. For the safety of my grandfather and the cottage it became necessary to fell the great ash.”
Unwilling to let the tree be simply cut up and used for firewood Lamb says, “I wanted my grandfather’s tree to survive beyond its rooted life, to celebrate the inherent potential of the material.”
And so with his friend John Turnbull, a tree surgeon and three times European Tree Felling champion no less, Lamb set about cutting the tree into sections. These sections were not entirely uniform but instead respected the natural elements such as knots and branches. “When you see a perfectly square cut piece of wood in a sawmill, builders’ merchant or used for tables and chairs across the world, the age of the tree can no longer be read. The beauty of the wood grain might remain, but it is now just a piece of wood and not a piece of tree. The wood has lost its origin.”
Although the top and base sections of the stools, tables and chairs have been made level, Lamb has processed the pieces of furniture very little beyond that, to retain a real sense of provenance.
For the purpose of the exhibition the 130 pieces, each showing the 187 rings representing the years of the tree’s life, will be laid out to form a 27-metre ‘tree’. The installation can be seen in the mezzanine and studio of Somerset House’s Embankment Galleries. “The ash tree continues to exist as an ash tree, but with a new life, a new function and the start of a new history.”