Reclaimed Fallen Trees Transformed Into Art

Feb 28, 2011 1 Comment by EcoFlirt

Helloooo, Gorgeous. It may seem an odd greeting for a cutting board, but trust me, it was fitting. As I rushed into Atherton Market for my usual Saturday shopping, I stopped cold when I spotted a table of gorgeous woodwork. First it was the cutting board. Then the bowls. Then the table itself. These pieces were the perfect union of function and art, made from wood so beautiful you have to touch it. As I stood there petting these products like they were puppies, I struck up conversation with their creator, Stephen Owen of Sixteen Acre Wood

To talk to Stephen is to know you’re talking to an artist passionate about his work. When he describes his process, he beams. He seems genuinely pleased to hear customers ooh-ing over a product, and he’ll reveal its story – the type of wood and what makes it unique, and even where the tree stood in the Charlotte area that supplied that very item. When so much of what we buy is mass produced far away by people we’ll never meet, Stephen Owen is a breath of fresh air. 

Even more amazing is that this wood Stephen uses comes from trees destined for the landfill. Then along comes Stephen Owen to turn trash into treasure, quite literally. Recycling has never been so beautiful. 

Black Walnut table by Sixteen Acre Woods at Lark & Key Gallery in Charlotte (Photo courtesy of Stephen Owen)

EcoFlirt: What kinds of products do you make? 

Stephen Owen: Anything the tree or wood tells me to make — I try not to force things. I love functional art. I seem to see things in a log or a plank, and I try to remove what does not need to be there so others can see what I see. I don’t like sounding artsy or spiritual, but this is basically what I do.

I love making garden benches, outdoor tables, indoor furniture, cutting boards are very fun to make, spurtles, muddlers. Other fun stuff for me includes boats and neolithic bows and arrows! The list goes on, and I very much enjoy this journey. 

I never stain wood; what you see is how it grew, and the color is natural. I like hand rubbed oil finish, so when you touch my work you are touching wood, not a plastic coating. 

How are your products different than ones consumers would find in stores? 

I don’t like to criticize other products, stores, or ways of doing things. Our world is the way it is. But there is another way. All of my work is made here, my raw material is grown here, and it is all made by me. When you purchase something I make, you know where the tree grew, how old it was, why it was cut down, and you know the person who made it. 

If we all knew personally the people who purchase the food we grow and the products we make then we have a responsibility to provide quality safe products and we gain a connection to the community that goes deeper than just money.

What are some of the unique properties of the wood that you use?  

There are many. For the cutting boards and garden benches I rely on the naturally rot resistant species: mulberry, walnut, and cherry mainly. The natural oils in those woods contain chemicals that prevent bacteria from reproducing and colonizing. Naturally water-impervious woods, white oak and mulberry, make great bowls. 

Where do get the trees to create your projects?  

I get my trees from local tree services in Rock Hill and Charlotte. Most tree services are happy to work with me as it saves the man power and gas to chip the tree and transport it to the landfill. 

Beautiful piece of cedar from a Rock Hill tree that Stephen used for his work -- otherwise it would've gone to landfill. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Owen)

Why are these trees destined for the landfill?

City or urban trees have the possibility of nails, wire, fencing, horseshoes, and other metal debris embedded in the tree trunk and can be undetectable. When a commercial or small mill hits this metal, it can ruin a very expensive saw or veneer blade. The loss of the blade as well as the down time to fix the machinery makes city trees not worth the risk to use. It’s no one’s fault that this happens; it’s just the nature of the business. 

When were you inspired with the idea of using these trees as raw material for your work?  

I have been a woodworker as long as I can remember. My first experiences were when my father pulled up a dead peach tree out of our orchard; we saved the main trunk and sliced it up on a bandsaw. I made a dozen spatulas and other cooking utensils for Christmas gifts — I was maybe 10 or 11. To keep me off the more dangerous equipment my father got me to use all hand tools we got from the flea market, mostly antiques: hand planes, drawknives, spokeshaves, etc. I still have and use most of them. 

Where do you create these projects?  

We live on 16 acres in western York County, South Carolina. About 12 acres are a mature hardwood forest with over 80-year-old growth, with ten species of oak, three species of hickory and eleven other hardwood species, as well as pine and cedar. 

My shop is a bit primitive, a 20×20 pole barn with no walls in the middle of the woods. I have come close to walling it in, but I enjoy being out in the elements and I think it reflects in the things I make. My tools range from a few chainsaws, a shaving horse, a lot of antique hand tools, a few sanders and a solar-powered dry kiln. The newest addition to my tool list is an Elbow Adze I made myself. Its design dates back over 5,000 years and is primarily used to make wooden bowls. A much larger permanent solar dry kiln is in the works and should be finished by the end of March. 

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Support Local Artists! 

If you are interested in purchasing a product from Stephen Owen (or just interested in gawking at his artistry), visit his website at sixteenacrewood.com and see a portfolio of his work at sixteenacrewood.blogspot.com. You can also contact him at 803-372-1381 or email sixteenacrewood@yahoo.com for information on commissioned pieces. Stephen also sells at the following markets: 

  • All Local Farmer’s Market in Columbia, SC at 311 Whaley St. (First Saturday of each month)
  • Atherton Mill Farmer’s Market in Charlotte (Last Saturday of each month)
  • All Arts Market in NoDa in Charlotte (March 11th and 12th)
  • Crafty Feaste Art Festival in Columbia, SC (April 16th
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One Response to “Reclaimed Fallen Trees Transformed Into Art”

  1. Jacquie says:

    Love his work! Can’t wait to see it Up Close when
    I come down in April! He’s really got talent!!!!