Last year, the Honolulu Museum of Art underwent a makeover—thanks to a gift from museum trustee Jay Shidler—which included the removal of a mango tree and kamani tree. During a close inspection, it was revealed that the two trees were damaging the museum’s nearly century-old building and possibly a safety threat to museum guests.
The trees were originally set to be removed in late March, but that was delayed due to the nesting of white terns—manu-o-Kū in Hawaiian—which are a threatened species, according to the state. After the white terns were no longer nesting, the removal finally took place in late fall.
At the same time, former Art School director Vince Hazen asked several people, including Art School instructor and woodworker Andy Cole, if they could take the mango tree wood and restore it into a work of art to give it new life. As soon as the tree came down, Cole and the others cut up the wood into useable sized pieces and hauled it off to peform their respective magic.
We caught up with Cole, who has been woodturning for over 20 years, to learn more about his process and what it was like working with such a historic piece of wood.
What’s it like teaching woodworking at the Art School?
I love working with wood and when I teach classes, there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing a student at the end of the day hold a bowl in their hand and marvel and say, “I can’t believe I just made this. When’s the next class? How do I make another one?”
How long did the process for Courtyard Treasure take?
Whether it’s a big bowl or a small one, it’s a long process. From the time that I wheel the logs home, I fill them with a wax sealer to keep them from sweating or drying too quickly and then just let them sit for about six months. It could develop that spalting and then I rough it out to about an inch in thickness and then let it dry for another year.
For this particular bowl, I accelerated it in the process because I wanted something to put back into the museum in the Hawaii’s Woodshow exhibition. So I cut that out a little bit earlier, turned it a little bit thinner and then allowed it to dry right up until the last minute when I had to finish it. After it was roughed out it sat for probably two and a half months, three months, and then I turned it down to nearly a final thickness and let it sit in the open air for about 10 days. Then I turned it down to its final thickness, which is about a half inch or so.
Tell me a little bit about working with the mango tree wood.
I had a rough idea of what I wanted to do because mango is one of my favorite woods to work with for a couple of reasons. One is because the finished product can be really spectacular and beautiful. Another is when it’s first cut down, it’s very plain-looking and does not have a lot of excitement to the grain. It’s just kind of white, yellow, blonde-colored and as it sits in log-form for three to six months, it begins to develop spalting, which is a fungus that grows in the wood and gives it all the spectacular color. So I anticipated that that would happen with the mango.
And I like working with mango also because people don’t think of mango as a treasure wood but once they see it, they love it. Everyone wants koa and they ask for koa, even if it’s not pretty-looking koa, they just ask for it because they know to ask for koa. So it’s kind of rewarding when people see spectacular mango and they just kind of shake their heads in disbelief and had no idea that mango could be so pretty. And to also be able to make a piece that has such historic value, having been in the courtyard for so long, to turn it back into something that can last for literally centuries is a real reward.
Visit the bowl and other majestic pieces of wood at Hawaii’s Woodshow, on view at the Art School until Oct. 7. Cole’s bowl is available for sale. Learn more here.