If you see someone taking a mallet and chisel to the Ponderosa Pine Saddle Bench in the Christine & Ted Mollring Sculpture Courtyard at Western Spirit, never fear. What you are seeing is the artist, carver David Armstrong, taking care of some wood rot that has—unfortunately but not unexpectedly—infested the massive single trunk of Ponderosa Pine that comprises this beloved rest spot in the museum.
The 9,000-pound tree that Armstrong transformed into the saddle bench came originally from Boy Scout land near Payson, Arizona. Once Armstrong removed the branches and bark and roughed out the shape of the bench, the tree was transported to Western Spirit. It took a crane to lift and install the tree in its present location, where it rests on a 3,000-pound steel base. Armstrong then went to work finishing the bench, applying numerous coats of a mixture of dye-tinted vinegar buffed to a satin smoothness with steel wool. The acid of the vinegar reacts with the tannin in the wood, oxidizing and weatherizing the bench. This process lends the bench its mellow soft color and texture.
Canadian-born artist David Armstrong was born in Kenora, Ontario. He began working in wood in 1996 and opened his own business, HeadSpace Custom Carving and Textures in 2001 when he and his wife moved to Phoenix. His work in wood encompasses furniture, artworks, and architectural pieces. He is also an avid painter and musician.
In Armstrong’s capable hands—with able assistance from the museum’s Facility Manager, Tony Del Rosso—the Ponderosa Pine Saddle Bench will soon be restored to full health and will once more become a place of respite and reflection for all those who pause to take in the beauties of the courtyard at Western Spirit.
Next month we hope to show you the finished project!