Thanks to the forethought and enthusiasm of 19th century settlers, the Walla Walla (Washington) Valley abounds with trees, its crown jewel, Pioneer Park, boasting 11 of the biggest examples of their kind in the state. To this day, valley residents take seriously the witty quote, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
“For over 150 years the people of Walla Walla have embarked on a vigorous tree planting agenda,” says Ron Jackson, whose ancestors settled in the Starbuck and Tucannon areas before the state was even a state. In the mid- to late 19th century under the Homestead Act, he explains, settlers planted groves of trees as part of the agreement with the government regarding land acquisition.
But the thing about trees, he adds, is that they don’t live forever.
“The walnut tree, for example, has an average life of around 100 years. And then it needs to be taken out.”
“Taken out” generally means chopped down, and Jackson, as the retired owner of Jackson-Sanders Hardwood (which he ran with partner Gayle Sanders during the 1990s) knows all about this: the company bought lumber from homeowners and tree services and sold it nationally to custom furniture manufacturers, woodworkers, and even Microsoft, which at one time boasted a woodworking club.
For Jackson, a tree’s life doesn’t end when it’s cut down, and beautiful trees deserve to be turned into beautiful, functional art — cabinets, chairs, decorative boxes, even a children’s old-fashioned sleigh. In his “retirement,” this is precisely what Jackson does, operating out of a woodshop the size of a two-car garage, filled with hardwoods salvaged from the area.
“I let the wood dictate to me what it will be,” the lifelong woodworker says. “Maple trees are like Christmas presents — you never know what you’ll find inside until you cut them down. Black walnut is a most beautiful wood — it’s pretty, it’s stable.” Bird’s eye, fiddlebacks, burls, shimmers — the terms cascade off Jackson’s tongue as he describes the patterns found in a tree’s grain.
Over the years, and in between owning various businesses and working diversified jobs, Jackson has custom built three houses, complete with hardwood floors, and in his current home, all but two pieces of furniture or cabinetry came to life under his hands. (The only items he didn’t build were his mother’s dining room table and china cabinet.)
Whether the project is big or small, Jackson is ready for the challenge, and his portfolio includes everything from a recently completed commission of dining room table and six matching chairs to a sushi table, from a sliding lidded box with inlaid (Marquetry) imagery to a serving tray — cut from the bias of a bough — which became in high demand among the area’s wineries.
“One time, one of the wineries contacted me about making a serving tray, so I did.,” Jackson remembers “They just loved it — called me back and said, we need a couple more. Called me back again, said they wanted to sell them. Pretty soon other wineries were calling and wanting them, but there was a limit to how many I could supply as there was a limited supply of that particular wood.”
Despite having no website, social media presence, or even, up to a year ago, business cards, Jackson fields requests for his work from friends, family, friends of friends, and total strangers who have encountered his art in someone’s home, at the Farmer’s Market (“Depending on the weather — I don’t fight the wind or the rain or go if it’s too hot”), or local shows and craft fairs. On occasion, he takes commissions, but for the most part, he lets the wood speak to him, and the finished products speak to the viewers.
“I’ve been a woodworker all my life,” Jackson says. “The fascinating thing about working with wood is there’s always something else to learn — you’ll never get there. By the time you develop one skill you’re thinking about the next thing.”
But quite fortunately for Jackson, wood — unlike money — decidedly grows on trees.
Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail email@example.com. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.
Wenaha Gallery is your destination location for Greenwich Workshop Fine Art Prints, professional customized framing, and original fine art paintings and sculpture by notable Pacific Northwest artists. Books, gifts, note cards, jigsaw puzzles, and more are also available. Visit at 219 East Main, Dayton, WA.
This article was written by Carolyn Henderson.