Hand-carved wood bowls are nothing new, they’ve been around for thousands of years, both as art, and serving infinite practical purposes. Perhaps one of the most beautiful examples of this age-old art form is the root bowl. Even in the most sustainable, responsibly managed forests and plantations, roots are often seen as waste. But some see them as hidden treasures.
The stunning root pieces found at bambeco are all the result of skilled carvers spending many hours to create unique pieces of traditional art. Each is a study in sustainability. The responsibly managed and renewable forest produces beautiful wood for everything from construction to flooring and furniture. But what of the roots? They have to be cleared to make way for the next cycle of life. These roots, the lowliest part of the tree, are destined to become one-of-a-kind art that preserves the beauty of the wood, allowing it to live on for years to come.
Skilled artisans use techniques that have been passed down from generation to generation, allowing the roots to sit, still underground for a time, before carefully digging them up and washing them to remove dirt and stones. The carvers carefully select just the right root to create their stunning pieces of art. The exact size and shape is dictated not by a plan or blueprint, but by the root itself, shaped with the artist’s talent.
The lower portion of the roots have the most interesting texture, grain and character, and so make the most spectacular large pieces. The upper portions of the root are ideal for smaller pieces like plates, or small trays.
The artist will inspect each root, turning it this way and that before beginning to carve. First they create the rough shape, then slowly whittle each piece down, carefully refining the form. The final carving is done with hand chisels before the piece is allowed to dry in a controlled environment. This process helps prevent splitting, or “checking” in the finished piece. The next step is sanding. Each piece is gently smoothed to create a finish that accentuates the grain and color of the root. When they are ready, the pieces are finished with layers of nontoxic, food-safe lacquers or waxes to create the silky-smooth finish.
These stunning works of art are equally at home as an accent piece, or serving at your table. Shan Mu trees are abundant, and the removal of the roots allows for faster, more efficient, healthier forests and plantations. These pieces are carved in the “flat cut” style, which means the roots are split lengthwise, and the rings will appear on the ends of the bowls. This allows the wood to expands and contract naturally, without checking or splitting. Each bowl is a unique expression of the tree from which it came, and the flair of the artist carving it.
Shan Mu bowls are exceptionally beautiful and preserve the natural structure of the tree. The traditional techniques pay homage to the tree itself, becoming the afterlife of the tree. Long after the tree has been harvested, it lives on in the form of these stunning pieces. Shan Mu wood bowls are truly works of unique art, and samples are on display in the Chicago Museum of Art.