The creation of the Etch bar top – Interview with Sedona artist Cheston Trammel
At L’Auberge de Sedona, local Sedona art is a key element for our guest experience. In partnership with Goldenstein Gallery, an abundance of local art is displayed throughout our property. While this provides a unique experience in itself, local artist Cheston Trammel created our custom 25′ Etch bar top from an ancient native Alligator Juniper tree collected from the Mogollon Rim and thought to be at least 800 years old, if not older. The bar top includes at least 75 inlays of Sleeping Beauty Turquoise, Azurite and Copper – all natural elements harvested from Arizona. We had the opportunity to interview Cheston to find out more about the creation process of this project as well as his artwork.
L’A: How long did it take to create the Etch bar top from start to finish?
CT: It takes a lot to create these pieces. First the wood is harvested from the Mogollon Rim which is a rugged landscape filled with forest and canyons. I have to get a special permit to harvest the wood and can only do it certain times of the year. It takes time and patience and many hours of hiking to scout the larger trees and often 5-6 men are needed to cut, move and load a single log. Once the wood is harvested then the milling starts. I mill each log into thick slabs, such as the 4” thick bar tops at L’Auberge. The milling also requires a team of strong men. Once the slabs are cut then I can begin to clean and sand the wood. Many hours go into this meticulous work. This is the first round of sanding and leveling. There are several rounds of sanding in the finishing process. Next comes the inlay. I am continually on the look out for special stones and materials to put into my pieces and have been collecting them most of my life. Many of the turquoise mines I have stone from have long been closed so this makes this turquoise all the more special. I must carve into the wood and create the perfect “bed” for inlaying these beautiful stones and materials. Next come the many layers of finish coatings. I sand between the coatings of finish to create the smoothest and most durable finish possible.
L’A: What is the most time consuming part?
CT: The most time consuming part were the inlays of Copper, Azurite and Sleeping Beauty Turquoise. Also, the topcoat finish took me a while to stabilize the wood.
L’A: Where do the Copper, Azurite and Sleeping Beauty Turquoise come from in Arizona?
CT: All of the inlays are native to Arizona. I received the Sleeping Beauty Turquoise from the Sleeping Beauty mine in Globe Arizona. The Copper and Azurite come from Morenci, Arizona.
L’A: How did you transport the bar top from your workshop to L’Auberge?
CT: I transported it on the back of my truck. To support it, I built a custom frame – thankfully everything went well.
L’A: Be honest, how do you feel about people eating on your work of art?
CT: [chuckle] I love it. I like creating functional art, which people enjoy on a daily basis. In addition, I’m very used to people touching and wearing my art from doing jewelry. It’s fascinating to see that people gravitate especially toward turquoise, as it’s somewhat unique to Arizona and New Mexico. Also, you can always put another finish on the wood if there is any damage from the food and drinks.
L’A: You also custom created the bar top in our newly renovated Creekhouse. What is the difference between the Etch bar and the bar in the Creekhouse?
CT: Both bar tops are Alligator Juniper. The difference is mostly in the finish of the bar tops as well as the inlays. While the Etch bar top is a lighter color because the wood was bleached, the Creekhouse bar top shows the natural color of the Alligator Juniper. Also, the Etch bar is finished with lacquer. The Creekhouse bar top has an epoxy finish and the inlays are Agate and Herkimer Diamonds. To top it off, the Creekhouse bar top features built in lights, which was fairly difficult to incorporate.
L’A: What is special about the Alligator Juniper besides its age? Is it native to Arizona?
CT: Alligator Juniper grows very big around but is only very short. It almost reminds me of a Bonsai tree. The Alligator Juniper tree used for the Etch bar top was only 18-20 feet tall. The fact that it takes about 1,000 years to grow is also very unique. These trees are ancient survivors and twist and adapt their growth to the harsh high desert environment. This growth is what creates such exciting and beautiful grain patterns in the wood. The Alligator Juniper is native primarily to Arizona. It also grows in Utah and New Mexico.
L’A: How did you decide to work with Alligator Juniper?
CT: Alligator Juniper has sentimental value to me. My dad used to cut a lot of it and created a beautiful coffee table. I actually learned how to walk around this coffee table. My girls also learned how to walk around this table – it’s part of our family. Nowadays, Juniper is more and more used for firewood, which is heartbreaking to me. What I cherish most about what I do is the fact that I’m giving the tree new live and a second chance through converting it into furniture. Especially, as the tree is already dead, usually from forest fires or woodborers.
L’A: Was it difficult to obtain the 800-year old wood? How did you obtain it?
CT: Yes, it is difficult to obtain the wood, as I cut it myself. In order for me to go out and cut the wood, I need a special permit. I use a chainsaw to cut it piece by piece. I actually obtained the wood for the Etch bar top 20 miles north of Sedona in direction of Flagstaff. Alligator Juniper grows above 5,500 – 6,200 feet. It takes a team of men to harvest a single log.
L’A: Is the material forgiving when making a small mistake?
CT: In the beginning stages of working with the wood and creating the spaces for the inlays, the wood is very forgiving. When I get closer to the end and I have to work on the finish, the material is not as forgiving anymore. This is because there are several different levels of the finish that need to be kept clean. If you make a mistake, you have to sand it all down and basically start over with the finish. My main challenge with the Etch bar top was due to the weather. I was working on it during the winter months and the finish wasn’t drying because it was so cold. I never stop learning.
L’A: Would you recommend using this wood for DIY projects at home?
CT: I would not recommend it for beginners, as it really is tougher to work with. It’s not as available as standard types of wood and it comes in bigger chunks. You really need to stabilize it correctly, in order to work with it.
L’A: Where did you get the idea to inlay with these natural elements?
CT: Even though I have always been fascinated working with wood, I started off creating jewelry. At one point I started combining the jewelry and the wood and basically learned by doing. I collect stones from all over Arizona, optimize their finis
h and then inlay them into the wood.
L’A: Do you have other pieces that guests can view?
CT: Yes, Goldenstein Gallery displays a lot of my work. Besides working with wood, I create steel sculptures, which are also displayed at Goldenstein Gallery.
L’A: Do you create custom pieces?
CT: Yes, I do them all the time including fireplace mantels, shelving and furniture such as dining tables, coffee tables and side tables.
L’A: What is your favorite piece you’ve created to date?
CT: The bar tops at L’Auberge. I love the sheer size of the bar tops at L’Auberge. It is exciting for me to share this special wood and my art with people so knowing that many people will get to see and enjoy these massive pieces brings me great joy. I love sharing about this wonderful place in which I live and these pieces symbolize it in the native wood and materials used such as the stone and copper. Through these pieces people can learn about our precious natural resources. They can reflect on sitting at a bar top that is ancient – if it could talk it could tell us about the pre-historic people that lived her for example. I also love that people will be celebrating life at these bar tops. They will laugh and talk and hopefully these pieces will be life enhancing to them which is what my mother has always taught me about art: life enhancement through art.
When at L’Auberge, join us on a Sedona art journey. Find a variety of artwork from sculptures to pointillism paintings displayed throughout our property. Connect with local artists during our weekly Artist in Residence events and watch first-hand while they create incredible art creekside.