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The Story of Trees

Meet Rory Hudson, craftsman and woodworker, who has always had a deep affection for trees and the natural environment having grown up in the verdant hills of Aberdeenshire, then in the South Downs, before arriving in rural North Wales. Read Rory’s contribution to ‘Stories within Our Isles’, where he describes the importance of having a relationship with trees, their right of respect, and how his craft of woodwork can continue a tree’s unique legacy.

I used to work at a local sawmill and I remember having some distinguished trees come in; an ash tree from an army regimental HQ with bullets peppered in it, the big oak from the village green that came down in the storm, a yew tree with someone’s initials carved on it and one old oak that was eight foot broad.

I liked working there, it’s heavy work but enjoyable. The mill was down a bumpy track that led to a clearing amongst the tall woodland where we had the wood yard. There were hares and deer, and often the buzzards would drift high up overhead. While the bandsaw worked its way through a trunk there’d be a few minutes to stand and wait where I would imagine the life of the tree.

I think when we have wooden objects we sort of forget that it was once a tree, majestic and alive, with a story of its own. I grew up in the woods, enveloped by trees. As a kid, me and my friends would spend the whole day romping around amongst them, then as we grew older we would sneak out and have beers around a fire as deep in the woodlands as we could; powerful beech trees, gloomy yews, wistful silver birch. Often if friends came to visit I would take them to see my favourite trees rather than the usual monuments or tourist spots.

They mean a lot to me, I recognise them as living beings and I try to honour that in the things I make. In Japanese Shintoism some trees are believed to house spirits and special ceremonies are held if ever they are cut down. Getting to know the story of the timber is part of that and also to design and work in a way that respects the tree and where it came from; it’s a kind of ‘respectful design’ and a gentle balance to work in this way. It often means my designs are minimal with nothing superfluous, allowing the subtleties of the form and the wood to be prominent. I like to think this brings honesty and meaningfulness to my work.

The wood I’ve been working with the last couple of years mostly comes from trees grown here in North Wales from a good friend Dafydd Davies-Hughes. He’s been collecting and making wonderful things from wood for over 25 years. Some of the trees, especially the elms, he remembers from having grown up with them in Criccieth and some he rescued from roadsides and one that was carried on the Ffestiniog steam train. A walk through the wood yard is often more of a story telling than a material selection process. There’s a story for each of the trees and to create something from the timber is just continuing the story. It gives the object a birthplace and character and having such an object is a tribute to the life of the tree; I think it’s very poetic and beautiful.


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