Although most of the media has left Superstorm Sandy behind in pursuit of fresh drama, many victims of that tempestuous event remain — not the least of which are the trees ... members of the urban forest, the unsung heroes of the city. By some estimates, 19,000 trees were felled or damaged by the storm. Both young trees with shallow roots systems and mature trees with large canopies, which acted like sails, succumbed to the storm’s mischief.
Given that there are somewhere around 2.5 million trees on public land in New York City, the storm’s toll might seem insignificant. But parks officials say the large trees that died will take decades to replace, and the natural landscape of the city is forever changed.
But for one urban tree-lover, Topher DésPrés, the arboreal misfortune offered an opportunity. When life gives you fallen trees, make tree bowls.
DésPrés is the director of Wilhelmina Models fitness division by day, but moonlights as an artist. His medium is wood, and most recently, wood from the city’s toppled forest. What a poetic and poignant employment of the re-use principal; giving new life to the fallen trees, some of which have been standing watch over the city since the Civil War, while at the same time eliminating the need for new materials.
"I've always felt like there's a lot of waste around us, the things we throw away and wasted opportunities. As a wood worker in New York City, there really isn't much in the way of wood supply for my craft, but I noticed trees that have fallen being chipped into mulch or thrown away and I thought why not use those?” said DésPrés.
And use them is exactly what he's doing. From the trunks and limbs of Sandy’s casualties, DésPrés creates bowls, kitchen utensils and other various vessels, bringing out the beauty of the wood in objects that are as lovely as they are functional. Inscribed on the bottom with the location of where the tree once lived, they are a reminder to us all that even in tragedy, there can be moments of light. And not to mention revenue: a significant percent of the sales are going to New York Restoration Project (NYRP), a nonprofit organization founded by Bette Midler which plants trees in the city and is dedicated to transforming community spaces.
“I started working with them and the more I did, the message began to flesh itself out to me: This isn't a bowl, this is a message about waste and opportunity.”
To see more of the work or to order a piece, visit topherdespres.com.