Chris Weiland, recently retired principal faculty member of the Center for Turning and Furniture Design, coordinated the building of a wood-drying shed during a three-week class in May. (Keith Boyer photo; click on any image for a larger version.)
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Eric Hoover, left, and Chris Weiland moved a log cut from a limb of the pin oak that once stood between Fisher Auditorium and Waller Hall.
Just outside the Robertshaw building on IUP’s South Campus sits a twenty-by-forty-foot woodshed built by students in May as part of a three-week architectural woodworking class.
Its purpose—to protect and dry wood for use by students of the Center for Turning and Furniture Design—is clear from what’s happening in and around the shed: Outside, a portable bandsaw mill is surrounded by logs, soon to be sliced into usable lumber. Gaps between slats of the shed’s wood siding allow fresh air to circulate, and inside, hundreds of boards are stickered with pieces of scrap wood for ideal drying.
A closer look at some of the lumber, however, reveals a “G” or “F” on the crosscut, hinting that there’s more to the story of the shed and its contents.
“F” stands for Fisher Auditorium. These boards were cut from a majestic pin oak that once stood between Waller Hall and Fisher. After tests found disease, the tree was removed before the start of construction on the Performing Arts Center. The boards marked with a “G” were from a white oak near Gordon Hall, cleared in 2007 to make way for the Northern Suites.
Also within the shed’s inventory are remnants of a grove of larch trees, removed along with the old Annex building, and the campus’s only Australian pine, which once stood near Breezedale.
So far, more than two hundred logs from campus trees have been donated to the Center for Turning and Furniture Design as part of the Harvest to Use initiative.
Through this initiative, logs that would have been headed for the landfill or chipper have instead found new life as a source of high-quality wood, laden with historical and emotional ties to the campus, for future student projects.
Chris Weiland, left, indicated with white markings where he wanted the grounds crew to cut the pin oak between Fisher and Waller.
A white oak was removed outside Sutton Hall in August 2009 as part of the Harvest to Use initiative. (Keith Boyer photo)
Personnel from the Center for Turning and Furniture Design were allowed to pick through the doors and cabinetry of Langham Hall before it was razed in 2007.
CenterWorks students used wood from Langham Hall to make these gifts for key players in the Residential Revival.
Initiating Harvest to Use
Seeing an occasional tree in the Oak Grove be chopped down, cut up, and hauled away, Chris Weiland began wondering, “What if…?” As principal faculty member of the Center for Turning and Furniture Design, he knew the challenges and expense of acquiring good wood. And his program, formerly called Woodworking and Furniture Design, had focused on the salvage and reuse of materials for student projects since the early eighties.
From Weiland’s questioning, a partnership formed between the woodworking program and the university’s Facilities Management group. After the first tree designated for the program—a white oak outside Sutton Hall—was cut down in January 2005, the initiative that became known as Harvest to Use took off.
The following year, as parts of campus were cleared for the Residential Revival, the project to replace student housing, the number of trees slated for donation skyrocketed. Using a portable bandsaw mill that the center had purchased through grant funding, the staff and students quickly took the wood from logs to lumber.
Tom Borellis, director of Student Housing Development, estimates the Residential Revival resulted in the removal of about 125 trees, with 175 being planted in their place.
In addition to trees, the doors and cabinetry from Langham Hall, demolished in 2007, were made available to the center. The repurposing of trees and other materials for art projects earned the Residential Revival special recognition through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, a rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council to encourage environmental awareness.
Real-Life Work Experience
The initiative’s environmental benefits (using wood that would otherwise go to waste) and economic advantages (a free source of high quality wood) are obvious. But, according to Weiland, processing the wood has been an invaluable experience for students—both in learning to identify high-grade lumber and developing a deeper connection with the traditions of their craft.
“We’ve become so dependent on fast service and immediacy,” he said. “This provides a deeper appreciation from many angles.”
The hope is that art students won’t be the only ones feeling a connection to the wood. Steve Loar, director of the Center for Turning and Furniture Design, expects the wood’s tie to the campus to increase the value of the projects for which it’s used.
“This is emotionally laden wood, whether it’s a general tree from campus, a specific tree—such as the tree in front of the Performing Arts Center, or a dormitory door—possibly from your room.”
That’s why the center has given the trees, as Loar described it, the “paparazzi” treatment, doing photo documentation before, during, and after their harvest.
This may sound like a business strategy, and it is. The campus wood has been particularly useful to CenterWorks, the professional-development arm of the Center for Turning and Furniture Design.
“We’re trying to, within the framework of academia, offer a real-life work experience,” Loar said.
CenterWorks’ first project on commission started as an offer to Weiland. Each year, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts selects an artist to develop the awards given to recipients of the Governor’s Award for the Arts. In 2006, that artist was Weiland. Knee deep in the revamp of IUP’s woodworking program, he was hesitant to take on the commission. But, by bringing his students in on the project, he was able to accomplish both.
“I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity, so you create an opportunity,” he said. The money received from the awards went into starting CenterWorks.
Several other commissions followed: a display pedestal for a bronze statue at the community library, a series of benches for the Performing Arts Center—the project that connected Fisher Auditorium and Waller Hall with a two-story grand lobby, and commemorative pieces presented to key players in the Residential Revival. Designed as a simple yet elegant puzzle, the 150 Residential Revival mementos were made from the wood of Langham Hall.
Experience in mass production is part of learning “the realities of what’s necessary to make a living,” Loar said. “It’s about saying, ‘What would it take to make ten or a hundred,’” rather than focusing on one piece.
For their work on the projects, the students were paid by CenterWorks, the same as if they were employed by a company.
CenterWorks is just one example of the center’s efforts to help students survive as working artists. Through the Visiting Artist Program, students see firsthand how a working artist makes a living. Students also take part in exhibitions, such as the Adirondack chair series, the most recent of which welcomed entries from eleven other universities across the country. Adirondack III: Transformation/Reinvention focused on green design and allowed students to choose their material from a selection of wood from campus trees.
Even Pittsburgh photographer Roy Engelbrecht’s day on campus to take photos for the exhibition’s program was a learning experience, Weiland said. “Students learned about photography and what you need to do to promote yourself well.”
And few students have an experience more real than building their own wood-drying shed. It was their one missing piece in the study of all phases of cutting, grading, and drying the lumber.
Building the Shed: A Big Piece of Furniture
Students began preparing the posts and beams for the shed during an advanced woodworking class in 2005. But decisions on where the shed would be built and other factors delayed further construction.
“We cut out the mortise and tenons with chisels,” said Kate Gagermeier, of Loretto, a 2007 graduate of the program. “At that point, it was a dream of Chris’s to have the wood-drying shed.”
With his retirement in Spring 2009 looming, Weiland began to question whether he would see the shed go up. When he received word of its approval, he got a summer teaching contract and created a course syllabus for Architectural Woodworking 576/451.
Complying with various building codes—through the township and the Department of Labor and Industry—was part of the project. “It’s not just pounding nails,” Weiland said. “You have to deal with township supervisors and codes, and the students learned that.”
Both Weiland and his students described working on the shed as though it was a big piece of furniture.
“We treated it like a really big chair,” said Master of Fine Arts student Mike Stofiel, originally of Kansas City. “The leg is the post—it just takes three guys to put it up.”
Most of the eight students on the construction crew worked twelve-hour days to finish the shed in time. Aside from pouring the concrete floor and installing the electricity, which were done by Facilities Management, all building tasks were handled by the students and center staff.
Some tasks, Dan Kuhn, of Brackenridge, an M.F.A. student on the crew, was skeptical about accomplishing without a forklift, backhoe, or other heavy equipment. “There was a solid forty-foot beam, and six guys raised it sixteen feet in the air with ladders,” he said.
The traditional post-and-beam construction and the crew’s reliance on manpower rather than machinery reminded Matt Nauman, who served as a project manager for the shed’s construction, of the Amish raising a barn.
“A lot of people were skeptical about whether we would finish,” said Nauman, an M.F.A. student from Frederick, Md. “We conquered any disbelief that was happening anywhere.”
Weiland’s last day as a faculty member was May 22. The shed was finished the day before.
“It was the best class I’ve taught in thirty years,” Weiland said. “I couldn’t have left the university in a better way.”
After her preliminary post-and-beam work, Gagermeier, now the director of a family center in Cambria County, was sorry to have missed the construction. “I just wish I was there to see his face when it was finished,” she said.
CenterWorks students, along with professor Chris Weiland, made the awards for recipients of the Governor's Award for the Arts in 2006—the group's first project on commission.
Green Design, Inside and Out
Inside and out, the shed is a model of green design. Weiland found the wood used for siding in a refuse pile, covered with water, outside Robertshaw. After power-washing the wood and drying it for six weeks, he could see, while it wasn’t furniture grade, it was certainly usable.
Amid the stacks of salvaged wood inside the shed, and used in various roles, are old audio-visual carts that Weiland picked up at IUP surplus sales. The projectors they once carried may have gone out of style, but Weiland still finds the carts useful for transporting wood or—when topped with an old door—acting as a stand for a miter saw.
In retirement, Weiland said he hopes to continue playing a part in the Harvest to Use initiative: as a board member of the Allegheny Arboretum, which assists the university with long-term planning of tree planting and removal, and by helping the center acquire grant funding for expanding the woodshed and wood-drying technologies.
But there’s also a commission he has yet to do: a trellis for the Heritage Garden—formerly the Touch and Smell Garden (and once known as the Shakespeare Garden), which was removed along with neighboring Gordon Hall during the second phase of the Residential Revival. The garden has since been recreated on the south side of the Northern Suites.
Weiland just isn’t sure which wood he should use—the larch from outside the old Annex building, the Australian pine from near Breezedale, or the pin oak that once stood between Fisher and Waller.
Steve Loar, right, director of the Center for Turning and Furniture Design, recently worked with graduate student Adam Criscuolo on the lathe. (Keith Boyer photo)
Kate Gagermeier, a 2007 graduate with a keen interest in green design, used a door from Langham Hall in the making of her Adirondack chair.
Matt Nauman, right, got a hand from Dan Kuhn in the making of his Adirondack chair.
Working with the portable bandsaw mill were Andy Scott, left, an IUP Master of Fine Arts graduate, and Chris Weiland.
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