(Top) Sunrise over the Lower Saranac (Courtesy of Tim Englert); (Above) ‘Hudson Rising’ woodworker Tim Englert at the top of Mt. Marcy in the Adirondacks (Courtesy of Tim Englert)
One of the signature elements of New-York Historical’s exhibition Hudson Rising is the imposing, elegant slabs of white pine and red oak that greet visitors. The live-edged trunks evoke the forests of New York State’s Adirondacks and help make the presence of nature palpable.
Hudson Rising—closing on Sunday, August 4—presents the Museum’s stellar collection of Hudson River School landscape paintings in fresh, surprising ways, and combines art, history, and science to capture the Hudson region’s role as an incubator for environmental thinking and action. The Museum now plans to translate the exhibition into several digital formats. (Stay tuned for future announcements!)
As visitors get their last look at Hudson Rising this weekend, we wanted to talk to the man who brought the natural world inside New-York Historical. Artist and woodworker Tim Englert contributed the live-edged wood slabs and is renowned in the Hudson Valley for his sustainable woodwork that revives rustic traditions, combining the artistry and environmentalism that’s so central to Hudson Rising.
Why did you choose to use white pine and red oak trees?
I decided to take a look at the Adirondack tree family—my brothers and I have been going up there for 30 years now on camping trips. As my brother said, ‘The white pine is the king of the forest!’ It was the most desirable tree for the colonies to have because of its size and its straightness; it was good for ship masts. As for the red oak, it is also native, and I’ve worked with it a lot throughout the years.
The live-edged wood slabs in ‘Hudson Rising’ (New-York Historical Society)
How do you find the wood you use?
It’s almost all from the waste stream. The white pine slabs from the exhibition were not—those were from a mill in the Adirondacks. It’s a multi-generational family company that cares about the forest and is a highly responsible logging operation. But the waste stream is the easiest route for a suburban or urban type of milling operation. Plenty of woodworkers here in New York City get their logs from municipal services and make magnificently beautiful things from them. What’s great about it is that the tree doesn’t travel far, so you don’t have heavy financial or environmental costs. Although you have to be careful, because often the logs are old signposts with nails and spikes that can ruin your tools!
One of your signature works is your series of Knickerbocker benches, rough-hewn log seats that are found throughout Palisades Interstate Park. But woodworking inevitably uses resources. How do you balance your environmental beliefs with your art?
There is a lot of sustainable wood harvesting happening. For example, the New Jersey Pine Barrens have one of the healthiest stands of white cedar in the country, but the forest is so thick that they can’t thrive. So, they’ve opened the area up to some strategic thinning. Also, with a lot of my work, I try to repurpose wood I find in the vicinity of the project. Like with my benches: People can walk along the trail where the benches are, see a piece of rustic art, and know that it came from that hillside nearby.
One of Englert’s Knickerbocker benches (Courtesy of Tim Englert)
Does living close to the Hudson River in Valley Cottage, NY, influence your daily life?
No question about it! Rockland Lake, Nyack Beach, Hook Mountain—these are the places that resonate for me the most. My kids and I walk the trails there all of the time. Rockland Lake is where the Knickerbocker bench first came to me, so as this place of artistic inspiration, it’s probably the single most important place for me.
Any last reflections on Hudson Rising you’d like to share?
I love being able to see Thomas Cole’s series The Course of Empire. [Ed. Note: The five-part series of oil paintings charts the birth and death of a civilization and opens the exhibition.] The fourth painting in the series, Destruction, really haunts me. I see it as a reflection of the world today in terms of the environment.
I also think it’s pretty much a miracle that anything like the preservation of the Hudson region ever happened. Not a miracle, so much as hard work by so many different people. Still to this day, you need people to maintain and expand its protections.
Written by Jean Tanis
Come see Hudson Rising while you still can! The exhibition closes on Sunday, Aug. 4.