We all use trees.
Most of us use trees in one way or another, and in our activity particularly, we are very aware of the problems facing so many of the exotic hardwoods. The timbers that are particularly prized for musical instrument fittings are the dark, dense materials; hard woods, endangered woods, woods that can often pinpoint their place of origin in their very name – Pernambuco, African Blackwood. A piece of rainforest the size of a tennis court disappears every second. Struggling to do something about it, Cites has prohibited the movement of endangered woods across borders. And fitting makers like us – responding less to the restrictions and more to the absolute duty incumbent upon users – look for new materials to halt the destruction and force international change.
Life in the workshop can sometimes be so busy that it is easier to grab another neatly sawed piece of rosewood than to take the time to look for a sustainable alternative.
Maybe we should take our cue from the art world, where people like Yun-Woo Choi use magazines torn into a zillion pieces to create gravity-defying sculptures that create a new dimension both philosophically and visually.
Or Jean Veran who took the great grey rocks of the Moroccan Atlas mountains as a natural canvas on which to paint man and his message in a truly original way.
We need to maximise what is given to us liberally by nature in order to create something that is transcendent and at the same time preserve what is endangered.
The trouble is, of course, that nothing works quite as well as the traditional hard, tropical woods. Where do you find the incredible density so utterly stable if not in ebony, or the smooth elegance of ancient rosewood? Where do you find woods that last quite so well?
The answer may be much nearer than we think.
I am writing this piece to start a debate. Clearly we need alternatives that use sustainable woods, felled in responsible ways and to find them we will need to experiment. I am looking at such homespun beauties as laburnum or possibly Olive wood to see if they will be suitable; maybe it is time to rediscover the joys of ebonized wood, it is a bit of a lost art, but not so lost as to be difficult to revive. Obviously, fittings need to last – but they don’t need to last forever.
You understand what I’m saying? I am privileged to work in an industry that I love, with materials that I respect, creating objects that will outlast me many times over and into which I can pour my creativity and passion. Nothing is more important than marrying the sustainability of life with the art of life. They are one and the same. It is vitally important, and a joy for me to produce beautiful, well made and durable artefacts, but that joy is meaningless if it means destroying something bigger than all of us.
We do not need to stop using these lovely woods, but we do need to do so carefully and responsibly taking our cues from the established forestry stewardship organisations and always urging our suppliers to do the same. At the workshop we will continue to experiment with some native and non-endangered woods which never the less often have a beautiful fine texture and very good working properties. I am thinking particularly of pear, apple, hawthorn and damson all of which we are investigating. There are many woods which are not endangered but have a sumptuous appearance and will work superbly well; I believe that protecting these endangered forests can actually open new opportunities for all of us.