Artists invited to join Robert Batemen Centre’s oneTree project

DUNCAN — The moment after the whir of the sawmill stops is the reason woodworker John Lore does what he does.

That’s when it’s time to pull one half of an old-growth tree’s massive limb from the other and reveal the material he’ll get to work with.

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“It’s this right here,” Lore said, putting his hand on a recently sliced branch from a 150-year-old Western bigleaf maple at his Live Edge Design workshop in Duncan.

“Every time, it’s different. You sort of try to predict what might be inside, but you never know until you cut it open.”

This maple will serve about 30 artisans from across Vancouver Island as it’s harvested in its entirety. Live Edge has partnered with the Robert Bateman Centre in Victoria for the oneTree project that will culminate in an exhibition of works created from a single tree.

The deadline for artists’ applications is Jan. 9. Organizers are hoping for a wide variety of ideas, from utensils and jewelry to furniture and sculptures.

“The Robert Bateman Centre is interested not only in art, but in nature and preserving it,” said operations manager Christine Woychesko.

“We’re looking at a tree that can have a new life in products through upcycling.”

Evidence of the tree’s former life still clung to its pieces on Thursday. The tree grew for about 150 years on Cameron Taggart Road, on a property which originally belonged to the Taggart family.

It rose about 30 metres in front of the Cobble Hill farmhouse, as the property shifted from sheep farm to dairy farm. Its current owners, the Wikkerink family, tied four rope swings to its branches in the 1970s, one for each of their boys. On one branch, now severed from the base, a worn rope is still attached.

The maple, which had become unhealthy, was felled for safety reasons. It would typically become mulch or firewood, but this maple fitted the oneTree vision and will have a different end.

Several artists see potential. Comox guitar-maker Reuben Forsland said he’ll be looking for pieces from the maple that have interesting figures but strong structure, which will be different from what a bowl-turner would want.

“It’s exciting to be part of a project that can bring out the most in each different piece and have it be a celebration instead of a competition,” he said.

Joe Gelinas and Sandra Carr, a Duncan-based husband-and-wife furniture-making team, are used to working on their own. They’re interested in bringing similar artisans together, as well as teaching the public about what they do.

“I love the idea that you can show the public what can be done with a small volume of wood [in a commercial sense], the value of the goods that can be created from it, the number of people employed and the periphery industry that happens around craft, especially on Vancouver Island,” Carr said.

It is expected that oneTree will create finished products worth nearly $250,000.

Some works will be created for the exhibition, others will be sold in the gift shop.

All pieces will be auctioned off or sold at the end of the exhibition, which is planned to run in Victoria from November 2015 to January 2016, before touring other galleries in the province. Funds will be shared by the artists and the Bateman Foundation.

Maple keys from the tree have also been collected and will be planted at a local nursery, so gallery visitors can leave the exhibition with a sapling.

“The tree will live on and on and on. It has a great future,” Woychesko said.

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