Normally, Eric LeBuse doesn’t take that much interest in driftwood. All sorts of high-quality salvage timber — ideal for woodworking — can be found around Oahu. But when a friend called him a couple of years ago to let him know about a large chunk of lumber that had washed ashore, he was intrigued by the description.
The board was more than 14 feet long, with peculiar cuts in it that looked like Japanese joinery. It was a Sugi pine, also common in Japan, and, judging by the size of the sea animals on it, the wood had been in the water for many months but not many years. When he took the board home and examined it much closer, he could see several other signs that made him think he had an interesting remnant of the Great East Japan Earthquake, which on March 11, 2011, devastated the coastal areas of Tohoku.
‘Hawai’i’s Woodshow 2015, Na La’au o Hawai’i’
Hawai’i Forest Industry Association’s 23rd annual statewide juried woodworking exhibition
>> When: Through Oct. 11; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays
That 9.0-magnitude quake, which also severely damaged the Fukushima nuclear power plant, was one of the most powerful of the past century. With such an unusual and noteworthy find, LeBuse wanted to do something special with the wood and has been carefully transforming it since into a statement piece of art, titled “Tsunami.”
That LeBuse piece, and about 100 other examples demonstrating the skills of local woodworkers, will be on display through Oct. 11 at the Honolulu Museum of Art School. The free exhibition, sponsored by the Hawai‘i Forest Industry Association, features furniture, sculpture, musical instruments and a variety of types of wood-turning crafts.
>> A bicycle made of bamboo and fiberglass, by Barret Werk.
>> Bowls made from the monkeypod tree that used to be in the International Market Place in Waikiki, by John Fackrell.
>> A guitar made entirely of locally grown wood, by David Gomes.
Gomes’ piece won the Spirit of the Show award this year, an embodiment of the association’s mission. The group emphasizes sustainability and the use of common woods. It also discourages pillaging of endemic trees not easily replaced, said Marian Yasuda, the show’s coordinator. Certain types of rare and endangered woods — iliahi, kauila and hala, as examples — are not allowed in the show in any form.
When the exhibition debuted in 1993, koa wood was in crisis as well, as its supply was dwindling and its price rising, Yasuda recalled. “There were a lot of people making a living off of that material,” she said, “and we felt like we needed to start making an effort to interest people in the use of readily available wood, such as Norfolk pine and mango, that was just going to green waste.”
In part due to those efforts by the association, koa eventually reached sustainable levels, Yasuda said, and other types of material became popular as well, helping to develop a bigger and broader woodworking community in Hawaii.
With the ocean surrounding Oahu, driftwood comes in plentiful supply here. LeBuse had worked with it before but also crafted pieces of drift he had brought back to Honolulu from Australia and the mainland. He became engaged in a different way, though, with that piece of Japanese wood he had found, because of the message he wanted to inscribe on it.
LeBuse had learned about numerous stone tablets placed on the shorelines of Japan noting where the tidal waves had reached throughout history, from as long ago as 1,000 years. People had placed them there as a warning to future generations, he said, not to build any closer to the ocean. But developers couldn’t resist the open beachfront property, and many people paid the price for that.
The 73-year-old retired Teamster typically works in traditional carving and wood-turning forms, but this time he wanted to leave his own message behind. He had been holding on to a large Japanese fishing float for about 30 years. He cut the Japanese wood in half and made a solid structural shape out of it, irregularly V-shaped, wedging the float in between the beams.
“I brought the wood home and thought about it for a while. I wanted to do it justice because of all the notches and its character,” he said. “I feel like it’s a statement about building in the wrong places. Somehow people didn’t listen to those old-timers. … They should have.”