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Maryland Artist Turns Stick Furniture into Natural 'Sculpture'

Artist Bill Suworoff makes furniture from the sticks and branches he finds in the woods near his home in suburban Maryland. But his is no ordinary rustic furniture. His furniture is considered by some to be works of art.

When Bill Suworoff goes for a walk in the woods near his home in Accokeek, Maryland, he's looking for sticks and branches that he can turn into works of art you can sit in, or read a book by.

“I approach a chair as a piece of sculpture, as well as a wall piece, or my lamps, they're all in my mind, they're sculptures," he says. "It's just kind of nice, I think, to be able to sit in a sculpture as well as look at it.”

And what he finds in the woods are not just the materials, but ideas for his designs.

“Just going for walks in the woods, that you know, trees grow straight up toward the sun but every once in a while a big tree falls over and it might pin some smaller trees down and those trees will be curved and after a few years they'll start to right themselves and re-grow again and you get these very strange kind of growth patterns," he says. "If I find something that's really nice and really strange, I'll take it home and save it, and a year later an idea will come to me for using that kind of branch.”

Sometimes his branches serve no practical function at all and are used for purely aesthetic reasons. His wall hangings look natural, but Bill manipulates the branches to conform to a particular shape even grafting one branch to another, to get the desired effect.

“Some of the work that I put in, the details in the chairs and the wall pieces, I think of as almost landscapes or forestscapes, where I'm seeing layers of trees," he says.

Because he's environmentally conscious, Bill says he mostly picks-up wood that has fallen from trees or has been cut by road crews clearing branches around power lines.

When he's not making furniture, Bill teaches a course called "Resources" at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, D.C. Freshmen students learn how to take basic materials like wood, plastic and metals and mold them into various shapes using power tools.

“It's a combination between a 3-D design class, a sculpture class and even a shop class," he says.

Bill says that making stick furniture is a centuries-old craft probably started by peasants who were forced to use the materials that were available to them. Although the craftsmanship in some of this furniture was superior, he says the designs were mostly functional.

For the past few years he's been experimenting, taking the craft a step further.

“I want to take my work beyond being what is normally considered rustic furniture - furniture from sticks. I want to put something different out there, make the pieces a little bit more elegant a little bit more contemporary in the lines, in the style, in the color, and in the materials,” he says.

Last year Bill had a small retrospective of his work in a Washington, D.C. art gallery and he has a backlog of work from neighbors who want him to make furniture for their homes. Whimsical works of art, made from, and inspired by, the woods.