Branching Out

From trees to benches

Alison Crowther sees both the forest and the trees, and in them she sees the roots of garden furniture. An English artist who works with unseasoned wood exclusively, she divines benches and garden seats in massive chunks of English oak. "Dealing with 'green' timber dictates what is and isn't possible," she says.

Crowther's deep affinity for the ideas of Japanese Wabi-Sabi—imperfection, humility, impermanence—turns up in every piece she crafts, from a winding bench for a private garden in Bath to the Mollusc seats recently exhibited at Sotheby's in London and later bought by London's Cumberland Hotel. Starting with a chain saw and gradually moving on to finer tools like adze, gouge, mallet, and chisels, she creates textures that reveal and celebrate the particular qualities of the wood.

Crowther began using tree trunks as her raw material in 1987, when she was at the Royal College of Art. "A storm brought down hundreds of trees, the wood was being given away, and I had no money," she explains. Crowther enrolled in a chainsawing course and taught herself to use carving tools. Now she visits private estates to select a tree or bough before it is felled. Her furniture has found a path from her studio—a converted barn in West Sussex—to gardens in France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and the United States. In those settings her work will, centuries from now, dissolve once again into the landscape.

From $1,800 to $18,000. New Art Centre, Roche Court, Salisbury, Wiltshire, U.K.; 44-19-8086-2244;