Creative Life in the Gateway Arts District
Once upon a time, a pine tree grew tall and proud. I don’t know where and I don’t know for how long it grew – one of you could tell me if you’d like to come and count the rings. Destiny changed the course of events for the pine tree and for me.
Enter Marcus Sims, owner of Treincarnation, whose mission is to transform and heal the relationship between our human culture and the trees of the American landscape. “Trees are beautiful,” he writes. “Trees are loving. Trees give us clean air, shady streets, organic matter for our gardens. Trees give us food. Trees are useful. They provide building materials for houses and furniture, and firewood for staying warm. Trees inspire us. They show us how to stand strong, and how to be flexible, how to be rooted and how to be quiet. Trees calm our spirits and open our hearts to a deeper appreciation of the miracle of life.”
“With Treincarnation, we work to bring a second beautiful life to trees which otherwise might have been thrown away,” says Sims. “Using logs felled by storms or removed to make way for development, we mill them into ‘live edge’ lumber, which is stacked and air-dried for years. Working personally with our clients, we build custom furniture pieces, always seeking to discover and reveal the beauty in the wood, while designing to meet our client’s needs and desires.”
A semi-finished partition wall stretched the length of the main gallery, bending at an L. It suggested countertop – workspace! So Art Lives Here unknowingly began moving quietly towards the pine.
During the second half of 2015, there was a call for submissions, followed by drawings from local artists (thank you Artis Moon Amarche and Howard Connelly) and a wonderful partnership and grant from the Community Forklift.
As fate would have it, all best intentions led the way for the Art Lives Here team to visit the wood shop in Sandy Spring, MD where we met Marcus and the pine. It traveled to our gallery and fit perfectly on the partition.
I got the chance to interview Marcus and I recommend spending time with him. Here’s what I learned:
Tell us about your personal and professional background.
I’m 61 years old, so I’ve been around. I’ve spent my life working with my hands a lot. I was an organic market gardener for a number of years. I’ve been a woodworker, a surveyor and musician – a lot of music in my life. So that plays into me being an artist, I’m informed a lot by having studied music and rhythm and actually now in my career as a woodworker I incorporate rhythm a lot into the designs that I’m doing.
What instruments do you play?
I studied music composition in college. That was my bachelors degree. And of course that’s all about putting things together, putting the material of sound together, meaningfully. I’ve played mandolin for 40 years and also I play hand drums–djembe, conga drums.
I was born in the state of Alaska, actually the territory of Alaska, because back then it wasn’t a state. My dad was in the military so we traveled around quite a bit, the midwest, the south.
Do you think that growing up some in Alaska began your appreciation for the natural world?
What do you love about your work/industry?
One thing I love about my work is that it is physical work. That I use my body to do the work and that I feel the materials, I pick up the materials, the lumber, and I carry it. I touch it when I’m working on it to feel its smoothness and also I use my eyes to see what’s there. Part of my work is to uncover the beauty, as much beauty or as much intricacy as I can in any project that I’m working on. And basically, every single piece of wood is beautiful but it’s all about assembling things together in a way that maybe conveys a deeper meaning or a more profound sense of beauty.
Finding the ultimate configuration or something?
Yeah, each piece I do, I try to take it as far as I can.
How did you learn the skills you use today for Treincarnation?
I’d have to say, I learned on the job. As I said I was farmer and I stopped being a farmer in about 1989. Of course as a farmer, you have to do everything. A farmer is a kind of broad skilled occupation. You have to have many different skills. So, I developed some skills there and then I moved into the DC area and I worked as a handyman essentially. I did repairs for people. Especially at the beginning, every project that I did was something I had never done before. So it was actually a little stressful. These are all new projects, I’m doing it in someone’s house and I don’t know how it’s going to turn out. The end result was that I learned a lot.
Then I started salvaging the logs and turning them into lumber. That was really an obsession that I had. At that time, I had no conception that this was going to turn into a business. I had no idea what I was going to do with all this lumber but I did know, in my heart, that a fallen walnut tree is a valuable thing. So I began sawing lumber rather than let this walnut tree just rot away or let is be chopped into firewood and burned to ash. So, for probably 8 years, I was just responding to this obsession that I had. I was just salvaging trees. I ended up with this huge pile of lumber that I still really didn’t know what to do with. Then, gradually, some of my handyman customers started asking for custom bookcases, custom pieces of furniture. So it all has evolved pretty organically. Really, I can’t claim that I had a vision, except for the vision of the value of the trees.
So you were following your intuition and maybe your own creative need to begin the transformation of these life forms that you found and weren’t ready to see them go. Saw the inherent value, not really knowing where it would go?
Yes. You were kind of hinting towards that I don’t like to see things wasted. That was part of it. I don’t want to see this wasted and in a sense, disrespected, you know, by being thrown away. So I wanted to do what I could to try to save these things.
Were these trees that you would find in your comings and goings or were there development projects that you knew were happening or was it a combination of both?
It was a combination. Basically, I keep my eyes open as I go around. I see trees and I see trees being cut down and I respond by salvaging them when I can.
Pretty early in this salvaging career, they cut down 5 acres of forest in Wheaton. It was a forest that I had been in before. There were homeless people who lived in there. There were Korean immigrants that had gardens in this forest. There were lots of wild animals.
One day, I saw a bulldozer track going in that they had just cut. I went in there and I talked to the guys and I said, “What’s going on here?” And they said, “We’re mowing all this and we’re putting up townhouses.” I said, “What are you going to do with all these trees?” They said, “We’re just going to chip them.” They were going to chip all these trees.
“Well, do you mind if I haul away some of these logs then?”
“No, they said, that’s less work for us.”
So I had dumpsters brought in, you know roll-aways, and I ended up hauling about 200, twenty-foot logs off of that site and up to my sawyer’s place near Clarksburg. So that was a huge boost, it was a tremendous amount of lumber. It took a lot of money to have all those logs moved and to have it sawed into lumber. That was the most massive infusion of logs that I’ve ever really had.
I guess there are probably a million stories of what happened after that, in terms of what went where.
I’m sure plenty of the furniture that’s on my website is built out of that lumber.
It sounds like this was one way to survive that demolition, spiritual survival of the demolition.
Since you said the spiritual survival thing, let me just throw this in. There was a tree on this 5-acre lot that was a large walnut tree and it had spreading branches. It wasn’t tall and thin. So the spreading branches told me that this tree had grown up in an open field. If a tree grows in the open, it spreads out and if it grows in the forest it grows tall and straight. All of the other trees were tall and straight, so that told me that this tree was the mother tree of all these other trees. It was the original walnut tree and probably there had been a house right next to it because that’s traditionally how it is. If you drive through the country that’s how it is. If you see a house, there’s a walnut tree next to it. It’s super common. So I talked to the developers and I said, “Look, you know what are you going to do with this tree? If you left it here, it would be a huge asset for the townhouse community that is going to live here.” And they said, “That is not possible because we’re going to raise the grade ten feet,” meaning they were going to fill in ten feet of dirt. So up to that point, all of the trees, they just pushed them over with a bulldozer.
So we decided, for spiritual reasons, we didn’t want this big tree just pushed over with a bulldozer. That seemed disrespectful. So what we did is, me and a group of my friends came in on a Sunday morning and we burned some sage and we did some rituals and we said some prayers and walked through this forest. Then I got my chainsaw and I cut the tree down myself. You know, that was an attempt to take it up a notch. I can’t save the life of the tree but I can try to respect it at least in it’s dying.
How do you continue to develop as a creative professional?
Well, I continue to develop new design ideas. So for instance, I recently made a small desk for my father who is getting on in years and in poor health. When I glued the top together, I had some very beautiful walnut boards and I glued the top together, not on a straight line. I glued the top together essentially following a live edge. This was a fairly active live edge so the joint in the middle where these two boards are glued together is a live edge.
I’m working on an island top right now and I did this also with a live edge in the middle. So instead of a straight line, it’s a curvy natural line that follows the flow of the wood. I spoke about trying to find as much beauty as possible and so I’m exploring both the techniques and the effects of being able to put something together like that.
What type of services does your business offer?
What I’m offering is locally-produced, live edge lumber for sale and countertops, tabletops and other surfaces as well as furniture which is made from this same lumber.
Who do you serve and why do they come to you?
I’m serving residential and commercial customers around the country in some cases but primarily in the local areas of Washington and Baltimore. They come to me many times because they have an environmental focus and they like the idea of green, salvaged and sustainable lumber and as well, they just like the beauty of the natural wood.
My business is all built on word of mouth. There’s been a little bit of publicity here and there but not paid advertising. I haven’t spent any money on that.
What’s on your desk right now that you are excited about?
Well the one thing is what I already mentioned, the live edge joint in the island top that I’m building. It’s headed to a house in Bethesda/Chevy Chase.
It is challenging because a standard technique for putting boards together would be to cut a straight line with a table saw and a jointer and have a straight line on both boards and put them together, glue them together. But if you’re doing anything that’s not a straight line then it requires a lot more very refined attention and different techniques, different kinds of saws. Basically what I do is get these boards so they match fairly closely along this curving and ripply line and then I take a little jigsaw, I put the two pieces together and I cut the line using the jigsaw. That helps them come closer. I might have to cut that line 6 or 7 seven times before they actually fit close enough that it’s the kind of joint that I’m willing to have in my work.
It’s a process of revelation. The wood reveals itself to me through my interaction with it. So I’m cleaning off the surface and I make discoveries. Or I cut it a certain way and put two pieces together and I discover something.
A moment ago, you asked about projects that are exciting for me and one thing is that I’ve got some lumber that came from American University, from their law campus near Tenley circle and I recently made a table top from two bookmatched pieces of this maple wood. Bookmatched means that the figure on one board matches the figure on the other board. Meaning that you put the two together and it creates a bilaterally symmetrical image. Just like if you take your two hands and you have them in prayer position and you open them up so that the little fingers are touching each other, there you have a bilaterally symmetrical image. So that’s exactly what you can find in boards that are right next to each other in the log. You separate them using a saw and those two boards match each other, just like your hands match each other. So anyway, when you have bilateral images, there is a tendency toward a being, towards seeing a being in there is pronounced because beings are bilaterally symmetrical. A human being, a dog being, most animals, well maybe not most but a lot of them, especially mammals are symmetrical beings. So anyway in this tabletop was, you could see it as a tiger face, a dragon face. It was very powerful.
I have some other boards from this maple wood that also have knot holes that makes eyes and stuff so I’m very excited about making another one of these, which I will perhaps keep for myself.
Who do you want to connect with in the Gateway Arts District? What places and spaces do you want to explore here? Who should come and visit you?
The people that I would like to know about me, for one thing, are people who have yards that have trees in them. Many times I’m working directly with the homeowner who is taking down a tree for some reason or the tree has fallen over on it’s own. They don’t want to see it wasted just like many years ago, I didn’t want to see trees wasted and so I started doing what I’m doing. I’m happy to work with people to salvage the tree that comes from their yard.
Then when we start thinking about my lumber, anybody who is doing any type of building and wants to use high quality, local, salvaged live edge lumber – just like you guys did there- I would like those folks to know about me. The other thing is creative people and artists because there are a lot of pieces of wood in my barn that a normal lumber yard would say, this is a piece of trash and why haven’t you thrown it in the dumpster yet? You know? But, I say, this is a piece of wood that is non-standard in its form. Maybe it is a super wild edge or it’s not straight at all or it has big knot holes in it or it’s a huge splinter from a tree that shattered out of the tree through the forces of nature and I salvaged it. So, for a person that is creative and sees the beauty in nature, I have a lot of resources that I am willing to sell to people who are interested in that sort of thing.
In terms of connecting people to you, we have information from your website, they can visit the supply that you have at the Community Forklift or they could connect with you through your website to potentially come and look at some funky wood up at the barn or to talk about custom work?
That’s right. So very often, when I’m doing a countertop or a table, most of the time, I have people come here to the farm. That way they can directly see, they can directly find the piece that they want me to work with for them. As well, like you and your friend’s experience, it gives them a deeper connection to the whole thing.
Can you name me just a few destinations for your work outside of the residences you’ve mentioned?
Yes, right there in Hyattsville, there is the Big Bad Woof. I did the main customer service counter in the Big Bad Woof and as well, I have a little bench near the window in that same store. Right across from them is a frame shop called Frame Savvy. I did the cherry counter tops, work tables actually, for Cheryl. I’ve done MOMS, you know My Organic Market. I did their…maybe it’s called a snack bar? It’s a bar where people can sit when they get a fresh juice and salad. They can sit there and eat it. I also did that for the MOMS over in Merrifield, VA. I have done the Roots Market here in Clarksville. I did their customer service area and the Great Sage Vegan Restaurant, I did their bar, it’s a walnut bar. So on my website, there is a commercial page and that shows a few of those things.
If you are interested in learning more about Marcus and Treincarnation, please visit his website: www.treincarnation.com or you may contact him via email at email@example.com or telephone (443) 831-1781.
The raw pine plank was beautiful but needed another set of hands, or two to reach its full destiny. Enter Jeremy Wright, transcultural artist. In between teaching ceramic classes at Montpelier, Mt. Rainier resident and artist, Jeremy Wright, graciously accepted the task of sanding and installing the pine plank for the incubator. Together, we walked the 17-foot pine plank home to Jeremy’s backyard. Now in its new home, the pine glows warmly and welcomes visitors humbly.
After the project was complete, I sat down with Jeremy to talk about his creative work.
Tell us about your personal and professional background.
For a lot of years, I worked in a bicycle shop, so I am mechanically inclined. I was introduced to ceramics about 12 years ago by a friend and went to Ohio University. First I got a scholarship at Hocking College in Ohio, did a two year degree there and immediately transferred upon graduation to Ohio University. I went for 4 years there to get my BFA in ceramic art. I’ve always tried to figure things out for myself. If I can get my hands on it, I’ll either create something out of it or refinish it.
Would you say clay is your first love? I know you work a lot with wood too. Are they equal for you?
I think they are fairly equal. They are just different mediums. They both involve building.
What do you love about your work and industry?
I’m always picking up odd jobs here and there, always doing things with my hands. That is one of the key ingredients to making yourself better is to take on those jobs that you might think you can’t do. When you break it down, you really find that you can do it, and you do it really well. If you’re patient and you just take your time, you’ll be really pleased with the results.
A lot of times, what ended up happening was when I worked for a maintenance crew, I got pushed aside for a lot of different jobs. They either didn’t trust me to do the job or they didn’t want to teach me. For some reason, they didn’t want to teach me the skills I needed for that job, so I found myself becoming self-taught in a lot of different areas. It was the only thing I could do. When I showed up at 6:30 in the morning and no one was there and there was a foot and a half of snow on the ground and no one showed me how to run the tractor, I had to figure it out. You know, get on it, there’s a key, turn it, lower the plow, angle it. You know, you figure these things out. Thank goodness I was mechanically inclined. Not everyone in the world can do that kind of thing.
Would you like to share anything about your personal and cultural background since these themes present in your work?
I was adopted when I was an infant so I have kind of piece-mealed together my heritage and history from different tribes, hearing different stories about certain tribes and how they did certain things. It’s never been straight from the tribe that I am from. I am from the Northwest plains of Canada, Edmonton-Alberta. And a lot of the things that I do, I go about in a totally different way than a lot of people would, but I come out at the same result and sometimes even better or faster. I attribute that to just being Native American and following my own logic through problems and getting there in a different way.
Your tribe is Cree, right?
Yes, Cree. Northwest Plains. They are a very peaceful tribe.
I like to call myself a transcultural artist because I am Native American but I grew up here in Maryland, in Montgomery county and there is a lot of crossover between the cultures that goes on in my mind when I’m creating or working on something. So all of those native influences come back out and they kind of crash through and “Ta Da!” Here they are. They somehow coexist and I have to find a way to do that to make it all work in the end.
What type of services does your business offer?
I’ve had art commissions to build or create custom pieces of ceramics, both functional and sculptural. I’ve been asked to make decks, large pieces, woodworking, functional, sculptural, ceramic. Mostly odd jobs, and things. They could say, build me a desk and I want whales all over it or I want rabbits all over it and I’ll leave it up to you to put whatever influence you want on it. They could come to me and say I need this desk fixed but I also want this on it when it’s done.
Who are your audience and clientele?
Mostly it’s family and friends and that’s why. It’s word of mouth. I love working on the functional stuff because then its right there on display in the people’s home. It becomes a conversational piece when people enter that room and see it. “Oh, who did this piece for you?” They say, “It was Jeremy Wright, he does all kinds of things, he’ll fix everything.” That kind of word of mouth gets around and its really nice because then I get a phone call out of nowhere, “Hey, I’ve got this dresser or I’ve got this bed I need to put back together but I saw the art you did on the other piece the other day from a friend. I’d like you to do that for me if you could.” So I try to keep my prices as low as I can. I’m trying to get off the ground here too.
What’s on your desk right now that you are excited about?
I’m excited about working on this piece of driftwood I just found. I’m trying to carve whales into it. I sanded it down and thought it would be a really a blond colored wood but it’s been soaking in the Chesapeake bay for so long it’s like ebony. It’s a marbled ebony piece of driftwood, it’s really cool. It probably won’t need any stain, I’ll just sand it really well and get that done.
Well I’ve always liked whales. As I child, I had dreams about whales sometimes. This kind of lent itself to that, you know, the driftwood and the water, it all kind of spoke in the same lineage there for that project.
Where will that go, is that for you or for a client?
This one is for me and I’ll just hang it up in my apartment.
What kinds of clients and partners do you love to work with?
I love to work with anybody who wants to learn how to do this kind of stuff or just wants to get their hands in it, have a part in it. I’ll also do it for people who don’t want to do anything or have anything to do with it, they just want the service. Anyone.
What do you do to keep yourself energized about creative work?
Make sure that I have breaks, not try to overdo it. I also like to get projects done so I’ll try to do it as quickly as I can. I’ll be careful about it but I really don’t like to have a ton of projects lingering around. I really like, if I can, to do it in a day or in two days or as fast as I can possibly get it done. Keep the quality high and the momentum going. That kind of keeps your mental desk clear so you don’t have to think about a hundred different things. Certainly if you have that kind of business and those kinds of projects piling up, you definitely want to keep those organized, figure out which ones. Get the projects to a stopping point.
You probably know that from working with clay too, there is a timing for things that is the right timing?
Who do you want to connect with in the Gateway Arts District? What places and spaces do you want to explore here? Who should come visit you?
It’s all pretty new to me at the moment so I’m not really sure. I’m kind of keeping my eyes and ears open and taking whatever tips I can get.
They can call me, they can come visit. They can come visit the house. I’ll probably be doing something in the later part of the week, some type of art project in the back yard, some sort of restoration.
You can reach Jeremy by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (301) 943-4093. You can also see one of Jeremy’s ceramic sculptures installed at our very own, Bird Kitchen and Cocktail. It is the giant eagle perched between the bar and the kitchen.