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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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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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