Sunday, January 3, 2021

Cherry Bead and Cup with Stinging Nettle Cordage

 This Cherry Wood Bead and Cup with Stinging Nettle Cordage was made using traditional techniques for natural materials that celebrate handcraft in a utilitarian and sculptural form.  Knife facets create texture that reflect light terrifically.  Each blade stroke can be felt and these low relief fingerprints are revealed by high angle light.  My work is in celebration of the morning light. 


Thousands of years ago the Sami people carved cups from birch burls.  The cups were carried on a short rope to allow for convenient travel of a life necessity. The cordage on this sculpture was made using only my hands.  First the stalks of the Stinging Nettle plant were collected from the forest. Then a process known as “breaking the back” of the stalk is implemented to separate the skin from the inner woody pith.  The skin is dried and then the fibers from the skin are rubbed together between your hands to change the consistency of the skin to a fibrous and nappy rough cord.  In this step you take time to remove all the hard bits which happen from the nodes on the stalk.  Finally a tight twist is put on the cord to start a two ply, twisted rope.  The result is a durable and strong cordage that has a wonderful light green pastel hue.  

The bead on the cordage is a torus, a model of an electro-magnetic field.  These fields surround all living things but are invisible to the human eye.  Craft offers a way to connect with nature through a relationship with a media.  The bead is a symbol of the natural frequency of life and the cordage and cup represent the connection to traditional hand craft.

All photos by Macky Swoboda

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Cosmic Seed

Trees use seeds to populate the world.  I wonder if they could ever imagine how much enjoyment they would create!  The samara is the name for this particular kind of “helicopter” seed.   Many trees use samara style seeds, Maples and Sycamores for example have their own models.  As I was carving this giant seed a few tiny samaras fell on me from a Douglas Fir tree.  As I was unaware samara seeds came from Douglas Fir trees, I was mystified.   Then I noticed some   Black-Capped Chickadees playing on the fir branches resulting in shaking their limbs.  Wait!!  They were climbing on the cones and eating the seeds inside.  It turns out there are helicopter bays inside of each cone with samara seeds parked in some kind of tetris miracle.  The Chickadees know this so they wait until the trees open their cone doors and then ravage the stash.  A few courageous samara pilots are able to plummet past the avian invaders, only to be marveled by a human below who is, coincidentally, hand carving a symbolic, sculptural model of them.   There are stories all around just waiting for us to witness.  

This seed is a story.  There are two copper poles and radiating lines between the poles.  Electricity is the unifying force of the cosmos and copper is humanity’s conduit.  Copper wires carry energy to light our homes and fuel our devices.  Every time your heart beats a tiny electrical arc fires.  There is a cosmic story hidden in this seed and it needs your inquiry to grow. Sometimes  another story is right under your nose if you take a closer look. 

Photo by Macky Swoboda                               

Saturday, November 23, 2019

HCMA Artist Residency

My first Artist Residency with HCMA Architecture and Design!  This project was a collaboration with the HCMA team to represent the concept of Social Justice in a sculptural form.

Artist Statement:  The concept of Social Justice evokes the balance of resources for a healthy and hearty society.  Craft and the act of creation is a stimulus toward finding the true meaning of beauty and incorporating these ideas in the conception and process of creation. It is through a connection with each media that we gain a relationship that can guide a process of design that accentuates the virtues of the media.

A bowl?  The bowl represents a vessel for resource allocation.  It is an ancient human form that has a myriad of manifestations over time that are representative of the cultural identity of the society that shaped them.  It is through connecting with the processes of these various cultures that we can gain new perspectives on resource allocation to use materials in the most prudent and beautiful ways.

The collaboration with HCMA allowed for a creative relationship that conceptually directed the project.  The doorway carved into the inner sphere of the bowl is representative of a pathway for communication and connection with that which fulfills us.  The bowl spins on a fulcrum point to represent the ever changing and participatory elements of fulfillment. Though fulfillment is always changing, we can allow for a community of people to help each other reach for social justice in the activities of our daily lives and the lives of those around us.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Anglerfish Sauna

The Anglerfish Sauna is a wood fired sauna on wheels!  It was built by the Hundred Handed Ones collective started by myself (Travis Skinner) in collaboration with Travis Conn. We utilize sculptural form in a functional way.  The Anglerfish Sauna showcases these principles in an experience.  We ask the audience to step into the work and witness natural form inspired by life.

The Anglerfish is for sale!  please ask us about her:  Email contact:

Cedar interior space.  The door has a black walnut wooden latch and custom steel forged hinges.  The eyes are blown glass windows with inset lights...

The eyes and lure bulb were blown by Kevin Regan of Central Glass Works in Centralia, Washington.

The garlic bulb stone basket heat exchanger!  I had a great time building this one and special thanks to Chuck McEvoy for his insight on stone setting :)  The stove pipe snakes through the stone basket...

The night lights

The scales and fins are the work of Travis Conn's sheet metal shaping.  The tail is a door that swings open to access the wood stove.

This piece is built to travel :)  If you have a possible venue for our art, contact us
The Anglerfish Sauna is for sale!  please ask us about her 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Custom Sauna Project with Marc Goodson

The Steam Roller is a custom collaboration project with Marc Goodson of Engaging Environments LLC.  Marc is a very talented carpenter and welder and he visited me in Olympia to see the Snail Shell Sauna.  We decided to collaborate on another sauna that was his main design in his shop in Portland, Oregon.  Over the past few months we have met for a few days at a time and chipped away on all the details.  After a lot of on and off work we spent Easter weekend jacking up the sauna and getting it on to a trailer and out of Marc's shop!

What to do with this beautiful sauna?  We are not entirely sure.  It has been a terrific project and we hope to use it to showcase our work and potentially find a buyer.  I think Marc is a bit attached to this sauna, but for the right price he could be convinced to let it go.  For now it will live outside of his shop in Tyler Smith's yard, but if you have any interest in seeing this building or taking a sweat, don't hesitate to contact either Marc or I.  (   

Marc and I with the initial steel frame in place.

Final photo of the exterior.  The back side of the sauna is where you load wood into the custom sauna stove.  You can see the cribbage blocks we were using to jack it up to get it on to the trailer. 

Interior of the multi-teared building with a view of the custom bent light fixture...

Custom sauna stove with room around the fire box for the sauna rocks...  This photo is from when we first installed the stove.

Process photo...

You can see the multi-level seating without the front wall installed...

Here is Marc Goodson in his element :)

Process photo to show the under bench wood storage area next to where you load wood into the stove.  

Final shot of the sauna loaded on to the trailer!  Can't wait to make it back to Portland to take my first sweat in the new sauna... You can see the burnt wood finish with Tung oil.  

And one more shot of the vinegar patina on the steel roofing!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Yellow Cedar Carvings...

Hideta Kitazawa gifted me the off cuts of yellow cedar from the work shop I attended a few weeks ago.  This wood is really great to work with and I have been playing around with it.  I carved this maple samara because it was one of my favorite forms and one of my favorite words.  I have been carving these little seeds for a few years, but this yellow cedar one came out really well.  I am very grateful to have had the experience to work with another carver like Hideta.  Thank you so much :)

I made this barred owl sculpture as a charm to represent my barred owl neighbors...

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Talk @ the Evergreen State College...

Save the date!  Friday, February 16th @ 2pm I will be speaking at Lecture Room 2 of Purce Hall @ the Evergreen State College.  My friend Scott Morgan invited me to speak for a Sustainability lecture series!  I'm excited to do a public outreach event and talk with other students who are inspired to create.  The topic of the talk will be conceptual design inspired by natural phenomena.  Please come if you're interested and here is a link to the flyer announcement

Bring paper and a pencil to doodle

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Carving Workshop

We had the pleasure of journeying to Snohomish, Washington to visit the Taoist Studies Institute and attend a weekend workshop hosted by Master carver Hideta Kitazawa.  It was really a pleasure to meet him and see his incredible level of design in relief carving using only chisels and gouges.  Pictured above are braces for the "Mountain Gate" project that Hideta worked on two years ago on his first visit to the Taoist Studies Institute sanctuary. 

Hideta designed and collaborated with the Taoist Studies Institute collaborated to build a wooden bell shaped like a fish dragon. 

He carved this little model quickly to help visualize for his final drawing to scale. 

This design was then cut into three pieces and carved on the outside and hollowed on the inside then the three pieces were glued back together to make this ceremonial dinner bell! This was a really terrific piece to see underway and I was so amazed at Master Hideta's skill and ability to see three dimensionally. 

Though I did not work much on this dragon fish, I did get to carve a letter! 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Mother Earth News!

The Leafspring is featured in the newest Mother Earth News magazine, in an article about Lloyd Kahn's new book Small Homes!!   

Sunday, November 19, 2017

red cedar carving...

On a trip to Tofino a few months ago I found a piece of driftwood on the beach and carried it back to my van.  I split out this shake and carved a squiggle with a hook knife a few days ago...  

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Coffee Hut Roof Commission

I saw the coffee trailer (pictured below) on the side of the road and I thought, what this thing needs is a roof!  After a little cajoling it was decided that I would be the lucky compadre for the job.  Around the same time that this particular project was coming to fruition, it just so happened that my Dad was coming to visit for a week...

Note:  This trailer is completely intact underneath of the wood covering.  I am not concerned at all if the wood sheathing leaks a little because there is a sealed metal shell underneath that was a purchased commercial coffee cart before any wood was added.  Another contractor/carpenter was hired and he glued firring strips on to the outside of the trailer walls and then attached cedar siding with screws to the firring strips.  I do not take any kind of ownership or responsibility for the siding or trim on this project.  The client was interested in a sign, and I convinced her that a beautiful architectural line with the roof will be the best sign this little cart could ever receive.  I hope you agree :)  Our part was to build the roof.  Normally I would use the rough sawn cedar as a sheathing that the roof shingling would attach to, but in this case my client liked the exposed boards and since they are not the waterproofing member of this roof set up, I thought, I like them exposed too!

 The first step was to through bolt the supports for the roof to the framing members of the trailer..  You can see the original trailer with siding here.  We made sure not to drill any holes or allow any fasteners to poke through the metal siding.  Aside from the through bolts that hold the supports for the roof, there are no other holes...

My pops drillin'  (pictured above)

We kicked off this whole adventure by taking off for the beach.  We scoured the coast for the right log.  It was just sitting there waiting for us.  We both agreed, in a rare moment of acquiescence, this here is the right log.  So we journeyed home with our treasure, the van filled with the chatter of structural strategies and the 16' log dangling out of the back.  

With the ridge pole up and the top plate cut for the right contrasting curve, the dynamics of the roof line began to take shape... 

We sheathed the end walls with ply and got out the old propane torch.  These things are sold at hardware stores as "weed burners."  A torch is a wonderful thing... We used this big, propane torch to singe the exposed side of the cedar.  This technique is known in Japan as "Shou Sugi Ban".  I have only used this method a few times, but I really enjoy how the fire brings out the grain lines in the material and makes it more weather resistant.  

After burning the boards we were hoping to apply tung oil, but we had to order a gallon of 1/2 and 1/2 mixed tung oil and citrus oil, which took a few days to ship.  In the mean time we got the boards secured in place.  We lapped the big live edge cedar boards and attached them together with small #8 stainless wood screws.  This technique of lapping boards and attaching them closely on edges is how many viking ships were built.  The vikings used copper rivets to hold the lapstrake boards together.  We bent the boards wet, then attached them with stainless screws and let them dry.  With this technique you can bend the thin boards and achieve lines that are sweet... 

I took my pops to the airport and came home to finish shingling the end walls.  I had collected a bunch of blocks of cedar from old stumps and I milled them into shingles on my friend's mill.  I used these shingles on the Leafspring (my hut), but I had a bunch of leftover shingles from that project and it was just enough to finish these end walls.  

With the end walls shingled, Kari wanted to come and see the progress on the cart.  She was really happy with how it was developing and I convinced here to let me add a driftwood sign on the front of the cart.   With the final details in place, I got out my shears and a sheet of brass to make the details pop!  

I got the brass cap on and Dylan Magaster stopped by with a brand new drone!

Next I bent gutters.  I saw how nice the line of the ridge looked glistening with brass, so I decided to create the same effect with the gutters on the outside line of the roof.   The gutters sleeve together and screw to the underside of the roofing.  Once I got them up I filled a bucket with water and dumped it.  The stream coming off the gutter was a wonderful hidden line of the building that was a little bit of a design present.  I can't wait to see it in action in the rain! 

The final step was to complete the driftwood sign.  I stopped by my friend Dana's shop and he was going to forge some knife blanks so I tossed in some 3/4" rod and made some brackets for a really cool piece of driftwood we found when my pops and I went to the beach for the ridge pole.  

The difficult part on this sign was that I had to forge the brackets to fit around the piece of wood and then bolt it to the trailer.  So I had to make them fit close, but not not too close because I had to bolt on the bracket then slide in the piece of wood.  After it was fit I kept the driftwood piece wet, then used my favorite torch (the weed burner) and heated the steel in place.   Once I got the steel up to temp, I shut off the torch and hammered down hot the steel around the driftwood. I much prefer the no fasteners, just thick steel approach... 

I stopped in @ Fishtrap Loop to visit my friends Gina and Eddy and I got a nice piece of Pacific Yew with some figure from Eddy.  After cutting out the brass letters, the sign was hung and wha lah...  the coffee hut roof and sign commissions are complete!    

Come get your first cup from the Bay Coffee hut on Mud Bay Rd in Olympia, Washington.