By Andrea Serna, Contributing Arts Writer
Have you ever counted the rings on a giant redwood to estimate its age? Woodworker Harold Greene is intimately familiar with the slow pace of time that it takes to create his show stopping hardwood creations.
On a recent visit to his studio, Greene was found working on a massive wavy grained top for a coffee table. The table top occupies the middle of his amazingly efficient small San Pedro studio. The process of obtaining material to fill each inch of his workspace is an art of its own. The artist revealed he occasionally obtains wood cut by the Los Angeles City Tree Department. However, the removal must be done on the same day the tree is cut, and to keep it interesting, the only notice for the public is posted on each random tree marked for clearing.
This particular 1,000 pound slab of local carob wood was cleared six years ago, stored for drying and finally brought to the studio to craft into a stunning conversation piece for one lucky client of this talented artist.
Written upon every piece of wood is the story of a tree’s life. This particular tree had a long healthy life, maybe 50-60 years, interrupted by a few gnarls. It grew to approximately 20 feet in circumference. Carob trees, native to the Middle East, were imported and now thrive in the Mediterranean climate of coastal Southern California.
The Los Angeles tree department posts notice on the tree that it’s going to be cut down. If you are lucky enough to be there then you can get pieces of that tree.
“I have some contacts that have heavy equipment. While they are cutting we are thinking of how the pieces can be made into something usable,” Greene said.
Ten to fifteen percent of his work is done with local wood. The remainder is purchased from lumber yards that are Forest Stewardship Council certified to ensure that timber is harvested in an environmentally sustainable way, or from yards that sell wood from managed forests.
Greene’s connection to foresting is a long one.
“My family owns a forest in Arkansas. Every ten years, they mark trees and cut a number of trees they have marked. Then they share the profit from the lumber with the family.”
With such a connection with wood, it’s reasonable to believe Greene came from a long line of woodworkers. Instead, the last woodworking member of the family was Greene’s great grandfather, a former slave who acquired the land his family still owns.
He purchased the original plot of 100 acres in Arkansas. He could make pretty much anything out of wood. He was also a veterinarian. He was a slave until 1864, and he acquired a plot of land [after being freed] that is currently owned by the family.
Greene sees himself as a woodworker, as opposed to a carpenter or cabinet maker.
“I consider myself a woodworker, but also a furniture designer. As a furniture designer you have to be versatile. I can design in traditional Japanese, designs from traditional Early American, to Craftsman Style. Lately I have done very contemporary pieces, more streamlined.”
Greene has also ventured into the area of public art. In December 2013 the City of Los Angeles installed two of his benches near the fisherman’s slip in San Pedro as part of the “Ghost Fish” installation (see Random Lengths News, Dec. 2012). The approval process for the project was as long as the process to cure wood.
“I applied through an RFQ (Request for Qualification). Artists Carl Chang and Michael Davis were also accepted for the project. That project started six years ago and was just completed a few months ago.”
Greene is also contributing work for the Port of L.A. project. He is creating furniture for the new plaza outside the Ralph J. Scott Fireboat Museum.
“More and more my work is getting into the public realm.”
Greene has some major projects that are housed in private collections that the public has never seen. Greene said it’s difficult for him to even get photographs of the work because of the client’s desire for privacy.
But that doesn’t stop him getting his work shown to the public. Last year he helped organize a group show with other woodworkers at Gallery Neuartig. His next one-man show will be on March 10 at Ma Griffe Gallerie on Gaffey St. in San Pedro.
“I will be showing some of my most recent client work, as well as small pieces in an affordable price range,” he said.
The exhibition titled, “ART ON PURPOSE” will run from March 5 through May 12, 2013. The Opening Reception is scheduled at the galleries Tea Time Dais Sunday, March 10, from Noon to 3 p.m. Green will lead a hot topic discussion at this tea time salon called, “Form and Function.” There is no cost to attend, however, gratuities are welcomed and appreciated for the afternoon tea fare which includes sandwiches, scones, quiche, fruit salad, pastries, orange juice, and an assortment of a variety of teas.
Details: (310) 547-2154, http://www.magriffegalerie.com
Venue: MaGriffe Gallerie
Location: 3624 S. Gaffey St., San Pedro 90731