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Wood as a Material: Sustainability and Solutions

Harvey Biel in new overalls.
Harvey Biel in new overalls.

When I was in High School, I was the only girl to take the woodshop class.  We had several family members who worked with wood and I wanted to see what I could do with it, handle the tools and take a test drive. My farmer grandfather, Harvey Biel, restored antique furniture on the side. He could bend and match broken legs, weave cane seats and backings that had gone to pieces (he is sitting on one of his restored rocking chairs in the photo. You can barely see the weave…) and he knew how to turn wood and carve, finishing with a variety of methods.

One of his sons went into construction, with an eventual focus on building ornate staircases, fireplaces and other ornamental woodwork for big houses. My Dad, another son, had a ten-year carving stint where he made Biblical stories come to life. Two cousins turn wood as hobbies on both sides of my family. The love of wood has been with us for a long time… I ended up making a few things, but although I liked it, pursued other art interests, settling on textiles and clay.

The connection between living on the land and developing craft skills has accompanied human history in its development as a civilization. Especially in cold climates where the land dictates an enforced period of rest, farmers around the world have developed other areas of expertise and production, working on projects that can be done inside, including wood working. From functional needs, high craft and artistic expression pushed simple objects into creative interpretations of beauty and identity. Wood speaks profoundly to us as a connection to the tree, to its roots in the soil, to that which sustains the spirit and to the years of growth needed for maturity. We see our selves in it.

Carving of Jesus with Mary and Martha by Clifford Biel
Carving of Jesus with Mary and Martha by Clifford Biel


Climate change, greed and human stupidity have changed our understanding of wood as endless and bountiful supply. We are losing about 31,000 square miles of rain forest a year that are being cut down to grow palm oil, to make room for agriculture and to mine for gold. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, seems hell bent on a mission to destroy the Amazon and he is succeeding. This article has statistics on what is going on around the world:

As the world gets warmer, forest fires have become more frequent and harder to extinguish. The Guardian reported just a couple of days ago:

“Thousands of people in Portugal, Spain, France and Morocco have been evacuated from their homes as firefighters tackle wildfires caused by this week’s heatwave, which has brought extreme temperatures of more than 45C (113F) to parts of Europe and north Africa.”

The United States has suffered terribly in the last few years with uncontrollable fires. Some have been caused by lightening strikes and lack of rain, but others are from just plain human stupidity: lit cigarette butts, fire crackers, camping without responsibility and of all things, gender reveal parties…  Statista has a graph showing which states lost the most acres of forest in 2021 with California being the worst, by far:

“California is the most wildfire-prone state in the United States. In 2021, over 9,000 individual wildfires burned in the Southwestern state ravishing nearly 2.23 million acres. California accounted for roughly 31 percent of all acres burned due to wildland fires in the U.S.”


So, what do we do? Well, there are many sustainable ways of using wood including upcycling what’s already been used and making something new, using trees that are diseased and which need to be culled, growing trees specifically for construction and furniture making and harvesting trees in a responsible manner.  One of the most interesting changes in our perception and relationship to trees and their importance has come through research showing that they can actually communicate with each other through their root systems and have many “emotions” that we have never understood before. This research puts folklore and Native legends in new light…   Click to read an article on how trees communicate.

The most important thing we can do is to protect what is left and to restore whatever we can. It can be done!  Lélia and Sebastião Salgado purchased land that had belonged to his family in Brazil, land that was completely degraded and barren. They planted 2 million trees, native to the area and everything came back! Insects, water, mammals, flowers….  It is now an institute dedicated to teaching about sustainability.

Instituto Terra in Brazil, Lélia and Sebastião Salgado.
Instituto Terra in Brazil, Lélia and Sebastião Salgado.

Gilberto Gil, a famous musician in Brazil, wrote this song to commemorate the Institute:


Several countries in Africa collaborated in an immense project, The Great Green Wall, which after several years is forming a green belt across one of the hottest places on the planet. It is mind boggling to see it happen!



It’s quite a simple formula, really: Trees and plants sequester carbon and can reverse the effects of climate change. If each of us adds some green to our yards, our lands, it will create a domino effect that can really help save the world.

What’s on Artizan Made

We have three very different kinds of wood products represented in our Artizan Made shops. Wood as a raw material, upcycled wood that has been reclaimed, and vintage wood carvings.  Here are a few examples:


Something Else Studio

Jannelle Olmstead and Joe Guarnere recently retired from a long life of working at renaissance fairs. Joe was a master woodworker, making cabinets professionally along with Tudor bird houses and box purses for the festivals.

Joe's Tudor houses
Joe’s Tudor bird houses

Jannelle is more of a textile person, sewing beautiful purses and accessories. She also uses wood, smaller pieces that are incorporated into her jewelry. She often paints scenes that fit in with the historical themes they enjoy. One of my favorites are her Viking ships!   Shop on Etsy


Something Else Studio Norse Ship Necklace
Something Else Studio Norse Ship Necklace


HoonArts has a nice selection of handcarved wood products including combs, barrettes, and earrings. This comb is a reproduction of an ancient Egyptian style carved from apricot wood.

Hand Carved Ancient Egyptian Comb Reproduction-Apricot Wood, HoonArts
Hand Carved Ancient Egyptian Comb Reproduction-Apricot Wood


Sodiq Zaripov of Tajikistan

The combs are made by a master carver who knows both the qualities of wood and of hair:

“Usto (respectful title for a “master” in Tajikistan) Sodiq has devoted his entire life to women’s hair. For many years he has produced his famous Tajik combs. His skill was highly prized even by foreigners, and in 2005 Usto Sodiq’s combs received a quality certificate from UNESCO.
Every year at various fairs, the Master sells hundreds of his combs. Their cost varies, depending on the complexity of the work. Women clamor for these beautiful wooden accessories.
And he advises which tree would provide the best type of comb for each customer: walnut, apricot, pear, apple, hawthorn or boxwood. One look is enough for the Master to determine the structure of the customer’s hair. Furthermore, insists the Master, the part of the tree trunk from which a particular comb was cut plays a big role. Toward the middle of the trunk, the tree gets its soil and moisture, and hence combs from this part of the tree are more suitable for dry hair.”

Afghan Tribal Arts

Abdul Wardak in Afghanistan (right)
Abdul Wardak in Afghanistan (right)

Abdul Wardak loves two countries passionately: Afghanistan, where he was born, and the United States, where he has lived since the early 1980’s. Importing from Afghanistan has allowed him to keep a foot in both countries. The core of his business lies in hand carved beads made from semi-precious stones, but he also has a huge inventory of wood, metal, carpets, and other tribal textiles and clothing.

The Etsy shop (currently going under revisions) doesn’t have much wood, as the larger pieces (furniture, mirrors, carvings, etc) are hard to ship. But, it does carry textile stamps which can be used to print on fabric, paper, clay, and other surfaces. Distressed, they are the discarded blocks used by textile workshops. I have them around my house as decorative objects.

Abdul also has a brick and mortar shop in Paducah, Kentucky.  There, you will find some of the furniture and larger wood objects that he has collected over the years, including a nice selection of African masks. The best way to have a look is on his Facebook page, Beads and Rugs by ATA. You can contact him through the shop or through his Etsy shop. He has large architectural pieces like columns and doors, carved windows, tribal chairs and tea tables, wood turned cups and so much more!

Afghan Tribal Arts Vintage Pear Wood Textile Stamp
Afghan Tribal Arts Vintage Pear Wood Textile Stamp


Vintage wood from Afghan Tribal Arts
Vintage wood from Afghan Tribal Arts


Sir Raffles

Charles Mandel has traveled extensively in Europe and Asia (he lives in Michigan, USA). Those travels led to an interest in sculptures and wooden carvings, something he has enjoyed since childhood. His collection includes tribal art from a number of countries, but he has a specific focus on old, weathered santos, especially from the Philippines. The Spanish colonies all flourished with Roman Catholic iconic art and the Philippines was no exception. Charles especially likes devotional work that shows wear and tear, objects that carry the memory of prayers and history, embedded into the wood by candle smoke and handling.

Named after an interesting persona of the Colonial days, Sir Raffles was an Englishman who served in several posts, always seeking ways to abolish slavery, protect the environment and document the historical importance of what he saw around him.

Charles has sold most of his Santos and ethnographic art that he had listed on Etsy, but there are a few pieces there, including these two and he has more at home that he has not photographed yet. If you are a collector, do not hesitate to contact him to see what he has. Click on the images below to go to the listings.


Antique Mater Delarosa, Devotional Carving, c1750 to 1800, Spain - Sir Raffles
Antique Mater Delarosa, Devotional Carving, c1750 to 1800, Spain


Tau-Tau Female figure, Sulawasi
Tau-Tau Female figure, Sulawasi


Itsa Studio

Barbetta has several masks like this one in her shop on Etsy. Make sure to explore and see her beads, textiles and her own art, too!

Carved wooden mask from New Guinea - Itsa Studio
Carved wooden mask from New Guinea



Well, you have an overview of some examples of how wood has been used by artists, past and present. Most people who appreciate handcrafted wood objects would probably agree that there is a feeling of warmth in the wood. Even if it has been painted, there is a vulnerability and softness that contrasts starkly with metal, glass, or minerals. Once alive and rooted to the earth, the fallen tree lives on, sharing it’s time and place in a new way.

Love your trees!


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Wood from our Artizan Market

Here are some beauties from our Wood Category!  These are pulled in randomly. We are looking for more members who work with wood, so if you have a handmade shop selling wood products, do apply for membership. Use the Contact form and send in your story and links.

Visit our Wood Category to see all products using wood as a material.

Most of our Market products link back to our member shops. We are also an affiliate to several fair traders who share our commitment to handmade. Your support will help all of us keep on doing our good work!


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1 Comment

Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Elena R.reply
July 25, 2022 at 9:55 pm

Fascinating read and good food for thought — thank you. Although my life mostly revolves around textiles, I have a major soft spot for handcrafted wooden objects, and, in fact, it’s one of the few things I collect. There’s a warmth to the material, and some sort of irresistible, inexplicable draw.

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