How many things can be made from one tree?
Fraxinus—known to most as the humble ash tree—spreads its presence wide across the world. From its roots in our shared myths and legends to the delicate shade on the corner of your street, ash has been a fundamental resource since the dawn of civilization—as the raw material for a legion of artefacts central to human culture. A hardwood preferred by craftsmen for its strength, versatility and weight, ash is the axe handle and the arrow shaft, the cartwheel and the catapult, the lance and the electric guitar.
Journalist and broadcaster Rob Penn—writer and presenter of the BBC series Tales From the Wild Wood—grew up under an ash tree. In The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees Penn tells the story of man’s intimate relationship with the ash. He felled a single ash tree in 2012 and distributed the timber to artisans and makers to be made into wares. Over the course of the next year, Penn collected a remarkable cache of artefacts including a paddle, a desk, a toboggan, worktops, benches, paneling, spoons, spatulas, tool handles and tent pegs. From the Irish hurley stick-maker to the pole lathe bowl turner working out of a medieval barn, from the bowyer—one of the few men who can still draw a medieval longbow—to the wheelwright using the same methods as Egyptian chariot makers, Penn meets a cast of craftspeople who weave a tale of wood and human ingenuity, of wisdom and the innate power of things made from natural materials.
Author of the bestselling It's All About the Bike and master storyteller, Penn is no stranger to globetrotting tales: he cycled round the world in his twenties and, in 2013, pedaled the Trans-Amazonian Highway with Freddie Flintoff for Sky TV. He is also patron of the Small Woods Association, and runs children's classes in wood lore and craft, teaching families about the value of the natural world.
As Penn talks us through his adventure, some of the craftspeople who worked with his ash will demonstrate their talents: artist, designer and maker Geoff Fisher (geoffreyfisher.com), who used part of the tree to make catapults and ‘trooks' (wooden hooks), and Sascha Gravenstein (saschagravenstein.com), formerly half of Hampson Woods, who took three off-cuts of Penn's ash to make chopping boards and jam spoons.
Come along and be inspired by this vital speaker as he takes you on a journey that starts with a single ash tree and ends with the crafting of over forty-five different artefacts, artefacts that tell the story of our affinity with ash over millennia and the power of wood today.
The author will also be signing copies of his books after the event.
Venue: The Auditorium at Foyles, Level 6, 107 Charing Cross Road
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Author photo © Tim Cochrane