ALUMNUS' CRAFTS GIVE DEAD TREES NEW LIFE
Some may look at dead trees and see future firewood. Tom Pleatman '69 sees future pieces of art.
In his home studio in Media, Pa., Pleatman makes bowls, vases, and other items from the wood of trees felled by storms, disease, insects, or natural causes. He chooses downed trees because of his love for the species as a whole:“I make bowls as a tribute to trees,” he says.
Pleatman grew up working with his father's lathe (a power tool that spins wood for shaping) and experimenting in a wood workshop. In seventh grade he turned his first bowl, and sought new ways to transform wood throughout high school and his college days at Haverford:“My engineering professor had a lathe in his basement.” Today, the software developer by trade spends at least two hours a day in his studio during the week and as much time as he can spare on the weekends.
The road to a finished bowl or vase begins as Pleatman collects the wood, either from his property or from the several local arboretums with which he has connections (Haverford's included). With his lathe, he“rough turns” the wood into a crude shape with thick walls, figuring out how to best display that particular piece.“I call that â€˜listening' to the log,” he says,“but sometimes I don't hear it well, or perhaps I don't know that log's language yet.”
As the wood dries and gets accustomed to its new shape, it will turn oval, warp, and sometimes crack.“On occasion, the wood will move so much that I won't be able to use it as I had originally intended, or crack to the point where I won't be able to use it at all,” he says.“I view these changes as the wood's expression of the rough shape I chose initially, and I think this contribution by the wood adds more beauty and meaning to the piece.” The drying process takes about a year; when it's finished, he remounts it on the lathe and finishes turning and sanding it. Finally, he applies tung oil to provide sheen and bring out the piece's colors and patterns.
Pleatman's works are sold at arboretum gift shops and at events tied to arboretums or plant conferences, including the Haverford Campus Arboretum Association's fall lecture series and fall and spring meetings. Twice a year, he holds an open studio at his home. He also receives commissions from people who want keepsakes of beloved trees from their property that were forced to come down.“Many people contribute wood that meant something to them, something from their childhood maybe.” Like Pleatman, they see the bowls and vases as ways of honoring trees.
Those who would like a special piece crafted for them, or who have wood to donate, can contact Pleatman at TurnedWood@comcast.net.