Robert Penn wasn’t content with simply imagining, and over two years he had cutlery, dominos, tent pegs, bowls, panelling, a canoe paddle, a toboggan, a coffee table, a desk and much more sculpted from a single old ash tree he had felled in Callow Hill Wood, Herefordshire. He struggled with the moral arguments, but decided it was more dignified for the tree to live on in the form of these wooden objects than to eventually rot, die and decay on the forest floor.
Penn cannot stop espousing on his love and admiration for ash, and how its properties – strong, easily bent, nice aroma – make it a perfect material for crafting, as opposed to simply being a source of firewood. He goes to great lengths to stress the importance of the fact that it was once a living organism, hence it contains irregularities which provide beauty, character and perspective on the life of the living tree.
While simple in terms of narrative, this book is a great pleasure to read. The love for their craft which the artisans he visits exude is obvious, and the sense of satisfaction they achieve through the therapeutic nature of their work oozes from the page. Short-term, throwaway consumerism has led to there being so few of these skilled artisans left in the country. I defy anyone to read this and not want their own collection of natural and unique objects to connect our daily lives back to the natural woodland which once covered the country.
THE MAN WHO MADE THINGS OUT OF TREES by Robert Penn, Particular Books; £16.99 (paperback)
This review was published in the November 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine.