A well-kept treasure lies dormant under a few rivers, ponds, and lakes in eastern Europe and Siberia, and awaits redemption. Bogwood is that treasure and Allen Telt is one of its chief redeemers. I met Allen a few months ago in New Jersey to hear about his enterprise and see some fascinating pieces of furniture that were made from bog oak in the shop of Thomas Newman and Vladimir Krasnogorov.
Bog oak (but also other bog species such as bog larch and bog cedar) is the colloquial name given to mostly white oak trees that fell, ended up underwater, and were covered by sediment for millennia. During the time that these logs laid submerged, shielded from light and oxygen, they became subject to a slow and profound transformative process that changed their color and physical properties and eventually resulted in proto-petrification.
Once the logs are hoisted up, sawn into planks, and carefully (and very slowly) dried, this wood reveals exceptional color graduation – the result of the trunk’s long term interaction with acidic waters, minerals, chemicals, metals, and organic mater that percolated and saturated the timber throughout the centuries. The black to dark-brown, to rich yellow shading (and all the hues in between) are the hallmarks of bog oak wood. These esthetic attributes coupled with the exceptional ability to resist decay make bog oak very coveted by designers and cabinetmakers. The bog oak spectrum of color is achieved naturally and can vary from log to log. Some bog oak planks can look like ebony or wenge through and through, while others show a transitional coloration — from black on the periphery (the sapwood) to yellow in the interior.
This fascinating video depicts one of Allen Telt’s recent bog oak recovery expeditions in Siberia, Russia.
Bog oak also resonates with a sublime appeal as a result of three other attributes. First, it has always been rare and expensive to mine, dry and process. Secondly, it is one of the only kind of timber that is fire resistant (thanks to its high mineral content, around 12%). And thirdly, throughout history, bog oak has been viewed as mystical wood that contains metaphysical properties, including the ability to heal the sick. The wood’s hardness, longevity, and resiliency transcends into symbolism and mythology to the point that kings and queens sought it out to build their thrones and decorate their palaces. Thus its presence was evident in the courts of Louis XIV, Peter the Great, Mary Queen of Scots, and some Venetian palaces.
Allen Telt began developing his bog oak excavation and recovery business eight years ago. After seeing artifacts made from Irish bogwood and hearing about the unique origin of the wood, he got hooked. When he heard rumors that bogwood (and especially bog oak) is laying under swamps and waterways in Ukraine, Russia, and a few other eastern European countries, he decided to act. Believing in the destiny and the transformative potential of this semi-fossilized treasure, he amassed resources and time and set forth to bring it out of the depths and back into the sunlight. As a diver, who was born and raised in Crimea, he decided to commence searching for bog oak first in Ukraine. He learned about a sunken 17th-century Turkish ship that carried trunks, and he purchased the rights to the valuable cargo. Then he launched his own search expeditions and developed a system for controlled sawing and drying process of the trunks into planks to ensure maximum preservation of the wood. Allen is an ultimate reclaimer and is part of a group of individuals who feel that abandoned, neglected, or forgotten wood, and especially timber that posses such a remarkable appearance and provenance, should not be forsaken. He believes that this legacy wood, which in many cases is thousands of years old, deserves a second chance and should be valiantly incorporated into new works of art and design.
In the relatively short time, he’s managed to become one of the main actors of this field, from leading expeditions that located, recovered, and processed bog trunks, to initiating efforts of introducing makers, designers, and clients to bog oak and its potential. Allen’s enthusiasm for the noble bog oak led him to develop a partnership with Thomas Newman and Vladimir Krasnogorov, two very talented and highly accomplished designer-makers who gladly utilized and celebrated bog oak in a novel and original way in their projects.
Watch Thomas Newman as he shares his experience with bog oak:
In my next post, I will talk in detail about Thomas and Vlad’s work.
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