7 Jul

Les and Ken retired carpenters both offered their skills to help me put up this structure at Ruskin Land, a fabulous Oak forest belonging to the Guild of Saint George in the Wyre Valley, when they saw me rock up in my old blue Hilux.

Les is a retired saw doctor for Spear & Jackson in Sheffield. Ken is a retired cabinet maker.

Time-served, skilled craftsmen.

I was really pleased when they offered to help in a quiet glade underneath the forest canopy. It meant I could have a cup of tea and watch.

The other lads joining in are architects attending a weekend of creative thought and action at Studio in the Woods .

In 2016 artist Mir Jansen asked me “Would it be possible to make a sculpture from a single tree?”

As a furniture maker it didn’t make sense – I select the prime pieces of local hardwood for my work. I’ve never used a whole tree.

But I was intrigued by her bold question. She is Dutch, I’m half Dutch – so I liked her logic.

We agreed to collaborate on an art project for the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield. She led the funding application.

John Isles a fellow of The Guild of St. George and land manager at Ruskinland said “Why don’t you chose a tree from where we are thinning out the stand Henk?”

How generous! I picked a huge etiolated oak by the ride for ease of processing and transport. I took the whole stem to John Gregory’s yard in Darley Dale and he re-sawed it for me into 1 1/2″ and 2″ boards.

My workshop smelled green oak for months. Like fine burgundy wine.

I cut a number of flat board with live edges for Mir to paint on in oils. I made a spherical steam bent gallery for her work.

This is the oak sphere in its own landscape not far from the tree from whence it came. Les and his friends put it all together without me saying a word.

Mir’s question had made me remember my first teachers advice to me aged 6 in Takoradi. She was Ghanaian. I wish I had paid more attention.

“Henk, you should be an artist.”

Be that as it may, I camped overnight with the architects near the sphere.


At five am, one of them was up measuring shadows as part of his project and asked me if he could record an interview for a book he was thinking of writing.

As we strolled down to the glade, he asked me to talk about the sculpture and it’s design.


After ten minutes he switched the recorder off, looked inside the structure and said;

“I hope you don’t mind me saying, but it’s a bit …..”

“Rustic?” I interjected

“Yes, its a bit rough and ready”.

I explained that many of my best ideas for furniture come from a good dialogue with another human.  

My imagination and skill flourishes best within tight boundaries, because manic depression is no respecter of too much laissez faire.

My very best clients have demonstrated great humour, foresight, desire, trust and best of all, faith in me.

Here is a piece about COVID for just such a client.


I said to the architect that because I felled the original tree cut, steamed and shaped all the pieces by hand leaving tool, saw and jig marks – it was easy for Les and Ken to understand. Although, perhaps the thinking behind the design was a little more esoteric.

The architect then said “What you said in the last 90 seconds was really interesting, Henk, but I didn’t record it”

I thought about Ken and Les, and my father (a master carpenter) – all men of few words.

‘Well there you go.’ I said, and walked away.

We all like a bit of rustic – we yearn for the simple life.

Rough and ready is the only way to survive in the Wild.

Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy a sophisticated wine, or a finely made hat and I love the City of Sheffield, it is just that I am not a great fan of over-complication.

Here’s to the ‘R’ in Ruskin, Rustic and MiR, we are what we R, and we are at our most creative through dialogue.

Here is a dialogue between a couple of trees in Eccleshall woods in Sheffield a larch and an oak.


 Like all collaborations a brief flirtation and repulsion at the root, followed by a later compromise and coming together.

3 Responses to “Rustic”

  1. Jenny Robbins July 27, 2018 at 3:16 pm #

    It is wonderful to have your sculpture at Ruskin Land. It is in a perfect spot and much admired. Thank you.

    • woodenhenk July 27, 2018 at 4:43 pm #

      Cheers Jenny, it was a dream come true for me x


  1. Waterfall | Woodenhenk - April 11, 2019

    […] the problem with having an ‘unquiet mind’ (manic depression) is that there is never any shortage of ideas. Almost anything can set my brain haring off like a […]

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