Peter Cook and Becky Northey practice the unique art of tree shaping in Australia. Using Wild Plum and Black Cherry trees, they gently and slowly coax out Pooktre - living tree figures, tables and chairs.
The work is slow and methodical, but the results are stunning. We caught up with Peter and Becky to ask a few questions about the growing phenomenon of tree shaping.
How did you first become involved with tree shaping?
In 1987 Peter Cook had the idea, “I wonder if I can grow a chair”. However, nothing grew the way he expected. In 1988 he planted a wattle, it was to be a harvested pot plant stand. He watched and learned about different tree's reactions. In 1995 Becky become Peter’s partner. They spent many cold nights sitting by the fire talking about the possibilities of trees. Pooktre was born in spring of 1996.
Within the first year of their partnership their first three designs started to take shape. More designs and experiments are planted each spring.
Is tree shaping an art form?
If you believe that art is to show you something in a way which you haven’t seen before, then yes, our trees are art.
Does the tree shaping bring you closer to nature?
We are nature, how can we get closer?
How long does it take to shape a tree?
For example, our people trees are shaped over a two to three year period. Then another five to six years before they are photographable.
Most people seem to think tree shaping takes too long. That's not how it should be viewed, rather think of it like this - the time you spend shaping a tree is captured by the tree then amplified. Twenty, thirty, fifty or maybe a few hundred years from now people will be able to still see a tree shaping that you did today.
What are the tools of a treeshaper?
Very basic tools, what we use can be found in most households.
How do you decide how you will shape a tree?
We design with an understanding of how our trees will respond. Which is why we achieve even and balanced trees.
We guide out a tree's growth onto predetermined design pathways. This is a very gentle but time-consuming way of shaping. We evolved our techniques of shaping trees in complete isolation from the rest of the world.
Most of the work with the trees is done before we even touch the tree. The designing and setting up is crucial to the success of the project. The growing is the magic of time bringing the project to fruition.
What does the term Pooktre signify?
Our method and knowledge of shaping trees, that is the result of our research.
How would you describe the Pooktre you create?
Where fantasy becomes reality.
How long have people been shaping trees?
Depends, how you define shaping trees. The first known grown chair by John Krubsack was planted in 1903.
Is tree shaping a growing art form?
It's like drawing, a lot of people can draw, but only a few are artists. There is a growing interest in tree shaping, going by the number of blogs and media interviews.
Is there anything you would like to add?
We are at present writing a book on our process titled -Knowledge to grow shaped trees. Our book will be mainly photos with an explanation text. It goes through how to choose a tree type to the finished piece, including how to grow a person tree and a wall mirror.