Most woodworkers with a connection to the internet have stumbled on images from Axel Erlandson’s (1884-1964) famous The Tree Circus, a California roadside attraction that featured Erlandson’s amazing pruning and grafting abilities.
He made furniture and sculpture by grafting branches and tree together, coaxing them to create great geometric patterns and unusual structures.
The Tree Circus didn’t last long, but the photos crop up every few months on Facebook or Twitter. This weekend I got to see one of the great structures from the collection – “The Telephone Booth Tree” – which is in the permanent collection of the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Md.
As you can see from the photo, the tree is no longer alive, but it is still impressive. And it is much bigger than I imagined from the photos. I spent a good deal of time admiring the joinery and the form itself.
And I thought: This guy had far more patience than your typical woodworker. Step one, graft branches. Step two, wait two years. Step three….
And, of course, I thought of the Welsh stick chairs from St Fagans that relied on branches that had been trained by the woodworker to produce the required shape for a chair while the tree was still alive.
You thought this wasn’t going to be a chairmaking post. Ha.
— Christopher Schwarz