The Wood Puzzle Fixation

by Susan G Holland

A stack of Puzzling Wood Pieces ©SGHolland photo

Wood is a puzzle in itself — full of individuality and story and secrets.

My stash of raw material includes a lot of recycled wood: wood from the forest, wood as a gift from a friend who collected it long ago in Hawaii, wood from a discard pile at a factory, wood from the Thrift Store and from Habitat’s The Store, among other sources.

Might as well be people, these chunks of wood, I think to myself, with the growth rings and scars and the species characteristics. And nearly as interesting, to my mind, as the humans I meet. Some of the people and some of the wood chunks are definite keepers. Others may be fun and playful and good for entertainment. A few are too wonderful to ever part with.

What you see in the header is a pile of vessels that lived for a time on a pedestal in my sleeping quarters — looking at me and asking me what they should grow into. I didn’t want to take these down, actually, when I moved away. They were beauty to me just as they sat. They sat there until I moved.

One of them, at least, is still in my storage unit hidden beneath boxes and boxes. That would be the drum! The one with leather thongs holding a piece of thinner leather over the top of that shallow bowl. The bowl is cut out at the bottom, waiting to be attached to the deep bowl it sits on. I still will try, someday, to finish this project. I must attach the small dish to the large bowl and continue stretching the leather carefully, spraying it with alcohol intermittently and coaxing it ever tighter until it dries just right to make a good sound.

Two sides of a Camphor wood curved cutting board becomes a puzzle. ©SGHolland. Private collection.

Flat boards make good puzzles. Several laminated cutting boards have become jigsaw puzzles. They are so satisfying to design and even more sweet to finish with intelligent sanding and careful staining or coloring, and then building a buffed outer finish to keep them sleek and beautiful for a long time.

I particularly like two of the flat puzzles of the past. One was a freeform jigsaw that became richly colored on one side and classically finished on the other. Not many pieces but very hard to put together. The pieces are wickedly intended to be mis-matched. One must use the grain to find the right assembly.

Another puzzle that was a real challenge to create and then to display was for a Seattle exhibit called Square Root. The top I kept formal, and smooth, and the back was colorful and playful. I displayed it on a glass table with a mirror placed a distance below it so one could see the square root symbol correctly from the top and the bottom.

(This spilled as I was setting it up at the Design Center and I tested the door man’s patience while he waited for me to set it back up so he could finally lock the door of the building! Hard puzzle.)

Then there was the design to puzzle out, of The Spirit in the Wood, seen here as she stood next to a tall window on a landing of the N.J. stairway.

The Spirit in the Wood ©SGHolland 2007 carved hickory

This piece of hickory was cut from a part of one of our dead trees in the woods behind the century old New Jersey house. The tree had been injured severely at some time in its life, with scarring that I suspected came from fire damage. The bark and outer layers were curled back from the central core and, as I thought about it, I realized that only the tree itself knew its story. And so I coaxed the spirit of the tree to emerge and tell her tale, leaving the curled bark around her. She seems to be weeping, the wood trying to split at her eye and across her mouth.

I shall never stop being deeply attracted to natural wood with its story.

Originally published at susanghollandartstudio.yolasite . com