The Blakely Burl Tree Project: The
The Blakely Burl Tree Project:
From The Ground Up
by Terry Martin
LAST DAY AT THE SAWMILL
Today we start work a little later.
The pre-dawn rising and working through to dusk every day have been tiring, and
the crew are allowing themselves to slow down a little. This is our last day at
the sawmill and there is relatively little work left to do here. During a pause
in stacking wood Steve takes me a little way off to show me something. There is
a pond behind some trees and he leads me to a large log that is partly submerged
in the water. When he tells me that it is black persimmon, I am mightily
impressed because I know it to be a remarkable wood for turning.
One of the most prized pieces in my personal collection of turned wood is a
gold-inlaid incense container made in black persimmon by a Japanese turner
acknowledged as one of the great masters of his craft. When he gave me the piece
he told me it was his favorite wood. I told Steve this and he, in turn, seemed
very impressed. He said he was keeping the log for a special occasion and he had
sunk it in the pond to prevent it from cracking. I could see that it was
enormous and privately wished I could have a small piece to make something.
Back at the storehouse the burl tree wood is finally all stacked and covered.
Once the site is cleaned up, it’s time to move to Mark’s studio in Florida. We
are starting to fall into a recognizable routine, like a circus on the move.
People set to their different tasks, and the vehicles are quickly loaded and
secured. In a modern version of tent-peg pulling, we watch while Gary sits in
the cockpit of the amazing mobile home and retracts all of its extended legs and
walls, folding it back on itself like a huge beetle. Finally the convoy is
packed, goodbyes are said, reassurances are offered about our return, and we are
ready to leave.
Gary Stevens contemplates the burl wood and studys it for the collaborative
piece he and Mark will make.
As we drive in a column away from Steve’s house, he stands by the side of his
driveway, waving to each of us in turn. As I pass, he flaps his arms and
plaintively calls out to me, “What’m ah gonna do now?” We turn onto the road and
I look in the rear-view mirror to see Steve still there, waving slowly until we
turn a bend and are lost to view. As I drive on I am sure he is still standing
there, thinking about what we have done together.
(Left to right) Mark Lindquist, Gary Stevens, John McFadden, Steve Cross at the
end of the sawmill phase of the Blakely Burl Tree Project.
Photo: Terry Martin
Steve’s usual work of sawmilling is significant, but I understand why he has
particularly taken this project to heart. Firstly, he was there before the rest
of the team when Stanley invited him to advise on what the Burl Tree might be
used for. He was the one who thought of inviting Mark to look at the tree. Also,
he was offered deep respect by the team for his local knowledge, his expertise
and, best of all, his irrepressible good humor and enthusiasm. If he is going to
miss us, we are all going to miss him just as much. There is much to reflect on
as we backtrack to Florida along the same roads we traveled on such a few busy
Steve Cross with his sawmill, Iron City, GA