Oak challenge

Faced with a 15cm long branch from a dead oak tree, not everyone has the imagination or skills to turn it into a piece of art or a functional design masterpiece.

But as one of the most loved of materials, wood can be teased and transformed into an impressive array of objects, and if you need some inspiration, visit the forthcoming Branching Out exhibition and charity auction.

Conceived by Andrew Varah, chairman of The Liveries Wood Group, the project challenged a number of designers and celebrities to turn branches into artworks, to be auctioned at the end of the exhibition to support The Arboretum Trust. More than 120 works will show off the material in all its glory, with many woodworking techniques – from turning and carving to cabinet-making – displayed.

Most designers relied on their skills, says Varah. Toy maker Katie Abbott designed an intricate jigsaw puzzle hidden in the branch; cartoonist Tony Husband created The Log Book, an oak branch hinged to reveal a painted riverside scene; Sir Peter Blake contributed a conceptual sculpture of a male form; Sebastian Conran designed a pencil holder with an integral sharpener; and Piers Gough, a partner of CZWG Architects, created a model of a look-out tower.

According to Varah, woodworking skills are ’as good, if not better, today than at any other time’. ’England has the highest proportion of highly skilled furniture makers of any country in Europe,’ he adds. ’Our heritage has always been based on the notion “the bitter taste of poor quality remains long after the sweet taste of low price is forgotten”.’

Branching Out is on at The Arboretum Trust, Kew at Castle Howard, York YO6O 7DA, on 11-12 September, followed by an auction at Bonhams, 101 New Bond Street, London W1 on 16 September

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