The Secret Life of Bowles | Art

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Benjamin Strobel is a woodturner who extracts wood from trees felled at Harvard University and processes it into bowls and pens. His products are given as gifts to guests on campus and sold online. His bowls and pens were popular within the Harvard community and served as reminders of many of his time at Harvard. The Harvard Crimson sat down with Strobel to discuss his research.

Harvard Crimson: How did you learn to turn trees?

Benjamin Strobel: Woodworking and carpentry has been in my family…for about three generations now. [My grandfather] I have been sawing wood for many years. He travels around the world, picking up wood from different places and turning it into objects. Then he passed it on to his father and eventually passed it on to me, so that’s how I started.

THC: What inspired you to start making wood from Harvard trees?

BS: My father was a professor at Yale University, and he started a company similar to the one I was running at Yale, so I helped him out. When trees fell on campus, he collected them and turned them into bowls and pens. I had a friend from his business school at Harvard, and his wife wanted to give him a special gift. She wanted to give him a set of three pens. One where I completed my undergraduate degree, one where I took a graduate program, and one where I eventually earned my MBA. She happened to have wood from two of her other places, so she went and looked around and talked to all the people who worked in the gazebo and on the Harvard campus. I passed the pen around for them and delivered it. he liked it very much. He showed it to various colleagues and professors around campus, and there was an overwhelming sense of, “This is really cool, this is awesome.” you should do this. ” This is a great way to spread the tradition of Harvard University and tell the history of what happens here through these items and bowls and pens that tell a special story.

THC: Many guest instructors have received your bowls and pens as gifts. Can you tell me who are some of the guest lecturers?

BS: I know a couple were sold to the Kennedy Center. A cool story related to that is that the house is currently undergoing renovations and there is this tree that was in the courtyard of Winthrop and Gore Hall facing the river. This tree is probably about 120 years old, and I think it was over 100 years old. It was planted about 110 years ago when the building was renovated. I found a postcard from about 100 years ago with a tree that basically looked like a sapling…When John F. Kennedy was an undergraduate, he lived in Gore Hall. There are rooms there that are still preserved for guests who come to stay. Harvard University. So they’ve been giving it to people who came as delegates from the Kennedy Center.

THC: As an artist, what is your favorite thing to make with wood?

BS: I really enjoy making the pens and seeing the reactions I get from them. For example, just this week I made a set of pens for President Obama. Made from wood from the White House. If you look at a $20 bill, it’s the tree on the right…I made a pen out of it. From what I hear…President Obama received them and was very enthusiastic about them. That’s my favorite part. It’s about seeing people’s reactions. But spinning the live edge bowl is really fun to see the bark on the bowl. Because it looks very natural. This is a unique item that is rarely seen. These two are my favorites. They also made a lot of tables and furniture from trees with bark left on. For me, a wood lover, it has it all.

THC: Where were you most excited to receive the wood from?

BS: There were two places on campus that I was really looking forward to. I have a tree… There’s an oak tree between the John Harvard statue and the Oval Office. It is one of the oldest buildings in academia in the United States. It’s great to have trees from there. I would love to get an elm tree from the Old Yard. I think that’s great. There are also some trees from the Tercentenary Theater where graduation ceremonies are held, which is very nice. These are the words that FDR said when he stood up. “Harvard’s roots extend deep into the past,” he said. He was now in the trees in my driveway. I think it’s kind of cool that he’s referring to things that I can physically hold in my hands. The story behind the tree is what makes it truly valuable. That makes it interesting.

THC: Do you have a favorite woodworking story?

BS: The Sheriff’s Office works closely with the President. Jackie O’Neal, she’s the head of the sheriff’s office, kind of an ambassador, an assistant to President Faust.And she gave it to President Faust… and she [Faust] I looked at it and said, “This is the coolest thing since sliced ​​bread.” I have that as a bragging right.

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