David Nash at Kew Gardens - wood as material
The evolving artworks in the Wood Quarry at Kew Gardens formed part of David Nash’s residency. Find out more about the Kew trees that Nash worked with to create new works of art.
David Nash worked with a selection of trees from Kew to create new work for his exhibition. He uses chainsaws and other methods such as charring, to work with the properties of wood. His art is both inspired by and in collaboration with nature and he only uses wood made available naturally, for example by storms, lightning or disease.
The Wood Quarry at Kew Gardens was the exhibition’s productive centre. It was an outdoor studio – a work of art in itself – and took place between April and 24 September 2012. When he looks at a tree, Nash imagines the shapes and forms it could become.
English oak (Quercus robur)
English oak is the most common forest tree in Britain. The tree at Kew that David Nash is working with originally stood on Cedar Vista. This oak was 21 metres tall, with a canopy spread of 8 metres.
Robur means strength in Latin. The timber of this tree is strong, durable and often used for shipbuilding, harbour work and ladder rungs. The layer underneath the bark (sapwood) is light coloured and distinct from the light tan to biscuit-coloured heartwood in the middle. The growth rings are well marked and the timber dries very slowly with a tendency to split.
Its bark was traditionally used in tanning leather and dyeing as oaks have a high tannin content. Find out more about English oak.
I take my cue from what the material suggests to me ... I am a researcher into the science and anthropology of trees and the wood they produce.David Nash
Common holly (Ilex aquifolium)
Kew's common holly tree originally stood near the Japanese Gateway. In the wild, holly is common in woods and hedgerows and is seldom more than 9 metres high, though larger trees are found in parks and gardens.
Spiny leaves protect these trees from grazing animals (higher branches have virtually no spines) and protect birds feeding on the berries from predators.
Common holly has an unusually hard, dense wood, with a dull white or grey tinge. The grain is often irregular and knotty, it is difficult to dry and warps easily unless cut to small sizes. Holly is relatively hard to work but finishes beautifully. Its fine grained wood is dyed black as a substitute for ebony piano keys. Find out more about common holly.
White ash (Fraxinus americana)
Kew's white ash tree originally stood near the Azalea Garden and was last measured at 14 metres, with a canopy spread of 7 metres.
White ash can grow up to 18 metres and can be cut down to a stump to reinvigorate new growth and produce new timber, which has a grey-brown heartwood, sometimes
tinged with red.
The timber of this tree is tough and springy, with excellent shock resistance, so is ideal for hockey sticks and cricket stumps as well as axe and hammer handles. The best sports ash comes from trees up to 80 years old; these usually have fairly wide growth rings, showing lots of growth in younger years. Wood formed later in life tends to have narrower rings, meaning less growth per year, and may be weaker. Find out more about white ash.
Oak is a very slow growing wood. 200 years to grow, 200 to mature, 200 to die is a general maxim.David Nash
Red oak (Quercus rubra)
The red oak at Kew Gardens originally stood on Cedar Vista. One of the fastest growing species of tree with shoots growing up to 2.5 metres in length in a year, our tree reached 22 metres tall, with a canopy spread of 9 metres.
Red oaks are named for their red autumn leaves and rubra is Latin for red. The timber is hard and dense but doesn’t last as long outside as English oak. The heartwood is a biscuit to pink colour, while the layer beneath the bark (sapwood) is almost white. Red oak timber also has medium bending strength and its natural tendency is to dry slowly and split. It is often used for flooring and furniture. Find out more about red oak.
More about the trees in the Wood Quarry
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