White Pine Whorl Sculpture

In 2018 I took on the task of doing a very thorough revision of Country Woodcraft, a book I had written in 1977, in the early years of my traditional woodcrafts career. Chapter 30 happens to be Pine Whisks, which are simple cooking and household implements that utilize a section of a white pine trunk with limbs cut off to whatever lengths are wanted.

I also have an ongoing project of helping along with some natural reforestation on the borders of our pastures and woodlands. Lots of little trees are coming up. Thanks to the squirrels (which we dislike when they come around the house and garden.) There’s many kinds of oaks, white pines, black locusts,
hickories, tulip poplars, red/silver/hard maples, and other trees coming up. My favorites are the oaks, and the hickories. When there’s time, and nice enough weather, and if I’m feeling up to it, I’ll be out there selectively thinning the trees, doing some pruning, and trying to get rid of the winter green, green briar, and grape vines.

While doing this light forestry, I developed an interest in what happens on a white pine trunk where limbs have been pruned away. The healing process develops wild, beautiful, concentric waves and ridges. This happens because eastern and northern white pines develop their new limbs in a horizontal whorl, just one time each year. There can be five to about fifteen limbs in whorl. This is followed by a clear space on the trunk for six inches to over three feet , where the succeeding year whorl develops.

The book project, plus the forestry project, birthed a new sculpture project.  Pine whorls deserve some special attention. I’m here to partner with that project.

Because the whorls are, in a certain sense similar, they present challenges what to do with each one.

The first step is cutting interesting whorl sections. I cut trunk sections four to twelve inches in length, with the whorl located anywhere along the length. The limbs can be cut-off flush, or up to about four inches. Flush cuts look best if they are well-healed, pruned at least one year previous.

Fresh cut whorls are more than 50 per cent water. Air drying can take many months. Speeding drying in a kiln is much quicker, but there’s a risk of developing end-grain checks from shrinkage that takes place a little too quickly. When drying is slow enough, there’s appreciably less stress. It’s Just like wet clay, or dough.

After drying, I chamfer the edges of the end-grain trunk and limb cut-offs. This is the beginning of transformation into something that is no longer a pine whorl. But of course, still is.

The next step is installing the new feet, which are wood screws like I used with the hollow maple. The feet give the sculpture some visual lift, they are an aid during the painting process, and they protect the finished sculpture when it’s picked up and then set down. The screws go into the end-grain at one or both ends of the trunk.

I’m also experimenting with using ball head pins instead of screws for the protective feet. The impetus for this innovation is that the sculpture can be placed in various positions, other than a vertical orientation. Inserting the pin heads is challenging when they’re not set into the very soft end-grain of the trunk cut-offs. (The limb growth rings are much harder.)  I use a dentist drill and superglue after reducing the length of the wire pin. As I’m preparing this text, PW-9 is the only finished pine whorl sculpture with ball pin feet. That’s why the gallery includes multiple photos of this piece. 

The paint is brushed on acrylic, with a good dose of metallic pigments. Glitter is added towards the end of painting, or just after a clear protective glaze is sprayed over the finished piece.

These are numbered with copper studs, using the same system as the hollow maple sculptures.

Thirteen pieces, designated PW-1 through PW 13. PW-13,  with copper studs   .::   is titled Golden Carrot.

Click here to go to Pine Whorls Album


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