A Thousand Years Reclaim, or the Bog Oak Revival, Part 1

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A well-guarded treasure lies dormant under some rivers, ponds and lakes in Eastern Europe and Siberia and awaits redemption. Bogwood is that treasure and Allen Telt he is one of its main redeemers. I met Allen a few months ago in New Jersey to learn about his business and see some fascinating furniture made from swamp oak in the shop at Thomas New man and Vladimir Krasnogorov.

Allen Telt and Thomas Newman inspect a shipment of thick bog oak veneer that has just arrived in the United States. Allen has located a specialized veneer factory in Italy that has become its exclusive point of reference for sawing swamp oak logs into exquisite veneers.

Swamp oak (but also other swamp species such as swamp larch and swamp cedar) is the colloquial name given to the mostly white oaks that fell, went under water, and were covered in sediment for millennia. During the time these sleeping beauties were submerged, shielded from light and oxygen, they became subjective to a slow and profound transformation process that changed their color and physical properties and eventually led to the state of proti petrification.

A log in the swamp.

A log out of the swamp that basks in the sun after two thousand years of immersion.

Swamp oak pieces and thick swamp oak veneer samples on a finished swamp oak inlaid table top.

Notice how thick the trim triangles are.

Swamp oak wood darkens near the outside of the trunk. Over time, the effects of darkening migrate inside the trunk. Some marsh oak woods are strikingly blackened through and through and resemble ebony or wenge.

Once the logs are lifted, cut into planks and dried carefully and very slowly, they reveal an exceptional color gradation which is the result of the log’s long-term interaction with acidic water, minerals, chemicals, metals and organic meter which has filtered and saturated the wood over the centuries. Black to dark brown to deep yellow and all shades in between are the hallmarks of swamp oak wood. These aesthetic attributes, in addition to an exceptional ability to resist decay, make it so coveted by designers and cabinetmakers. The color spectrum of the bog oak was obtained naturally and can vary from log to log. Some marsh oak planks may look ebony or wenge through and through, while others show a transitional coloring – from black on the periphery (sapwood) to yellow on the inside.

This fascinating video shows one of Allen Telt’s recent bog oak recovery expeditions in Siberia, Russia. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nc_bshZKNzg&feature=emb_logo

Swamp oak inlaid wall art. Designed and built by Thomas Newman and Vladimir Krasnogorov.

Modern swamp oak jewelry by artist Larisa Dukhovenko that showcases pieces of wood that date back thousands of years. While the catalyst for our modern recognition of bog oak comes from Irish and British woodworking traditions and producers, the history and presence of bog oak extends beyond and can be located in Central and Eastern Europe as well.

Swamp oak also resonates with sublime charm as a result of three other attributes. Firstly, it has always been rare and expensive to extract, dry and process, secondly, it is the only type of wood that is resistant to fire, thanks to its high mineral content (about 12 percent), and thirdly, over of history, it has been regarded as a mystical wood that holds metaphysical properties, including the ability to heal the sick. The hardness, longevity and resilience of wood are transcended in symbolism and mythology to the point where kings and queens thought after it to build their thrones and decorate their palaces. Thus his presence was evident in the courts of Louis XIV, Peter the Great, Mary Queen of Scots and some Venetian palaces.

A console made with swamp oak veneer, designed and built by Thomas Newman e Vladimir Krasnogorov.

A coffee table whose top is composed of three solid marsh oak slabs live. Designed and built by Thomas Newman and Vladimir Krasnogorov.

Allen Telt began developing his bog oak excavation and recovery business eight years ago. After seeing artifacts made from Irish bog wood and hearing about the wood’s unique origin, he was hooked. When he heard the housemates that swamp and especially marsh oak lay under swamps and streams in Ukraine, Russia and some other Eastern European countries, he decided to take action. Believing in the fate and transformative potential of this semi-fossilized treasure, he accumulated resources and time and decided to take it out of the depths and back into the sunlight. Being a diver, born and raised in the Crimea, he decides to start the search for the marsh oak first in Ukraine. He learned of a sunken 17th-century Turkish ship carrying trunks and bought the precious cargo. Then he launched his research expeditions and developed a system for the controlled sawing and drying process of plank logs to ensure maximum preservation of the wood. Allen is a definitive complainant and part of a group of individuals who believe that abandoned, neglected or forgotten wood, and especially lumber that possesses such a remarkable appearance and provenance, should not be abandoned. He believes this inherited wood, which in many cases is thousands of years old, deserves a second chance and should be valiantly incorporated into new works of art and design.

Allen Telt and some beautiful swamp oak slabs. Allen regularly sends swamp oak log samples to a certified carbon dating laboratory. Some of the trunks he recovered are thousands of years old and came from trees that have seen ancient empires rise and fall, witnessed the dawn of Christianity and the armies of Genghis Khan.

In a relatively short time, he has managed to become a major player in this field: from major expeditions identifying, recovering and processing peat bog logs, to initiating efforts to introduce bog oak producers, designers and customers to its potential. Allen’s enthusiasm for the noble marsh oak led him to develop a partnership with Thomas Newman and Vladimir Krasnogorov, two highly talented and experienced designer-makers who have gladly used and celebrated bog oak in a new and original way in their projects.

Watch Thomas Newman share his swamp oak experience: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uONwqw5JhIw

Next time I will talk in detail about Thomas and Vlad’s work.

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