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Designers create work from ‘lost’ wood

Since the emerald ash borer was first discovered in 2002 in Michigan, the tiny insect has been responsible for the deaths of millions of trees in a seven-state area that is continuing to expand. The Chicago Furniture Designers Association (CFDA) is sponsoring a traveling exhibition of furniture made from the wood of dead ash trees called, “Rising from Ashes: Furniture from Lost Trees,” in an effort to educate the public about the tree-killing disease and what steps can be taken to retard its advancement.
The exhibition will feature 33 pieces of furniture built by 29 makers from the Greater Chicago area.
The 1/2”-long borer was presumably brought to this country in solid wood packing materials used to transport manufactured goods from Asia. Since its arrival, the emerald ash borer has killed green ash (F. pennsylvanica), white ash (F. americana) and black ash (F. nigra). The infested trees exhibit dieback from the top down and many trees can lose from one-third to one-half of their branches in one year. Trees often are killed after two to three years of infestation. The borer will tunnel in the tree’s cambium, just beneath the bark, effectively cutting off the tree’s water and nutrient-conducting vessels, leading to the death of the tree.
“At one of the CFDA meetings, they were saying we need to start thinking about different shows we might do,” says Bruce Horigan, of Horigan Urban Forest Products in Skokie, Ill., and a CDFA member. “I am on the Illinois Ash Wood Utilization Team, and I just said, ‘Have you ever thought about doing a show tied to the emerald ash borer?’ And John Kriegshauser and a bunch of the people in the group jumped on that.”
The exhibition debuts Aug. 22 at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Ill., and runs through Sept. 7.
“Horigan realized we had an opportunity here and we sort of ran with it,” says Kriegshauser, the exhibition’s co-chair. “We’ve been very interested in getting shows that reach a wider public. It’s very easy to have a show and have 300 people show up. But we wanted to have a wider range of outreach, so we have been looking for opportunities like this. The Morton Arboretum, particularly over the Labor Day weekend, is going to have around 45,000 visitors.
“The arboretum is working the educational side of it. One of the problems with the spread [of the emerald ash borer] is we’re pretty sure it came into Illinois in firewood from Michigan. If the people of Illinois can learn stuff like that, then maybe we can keep it from going from a house here in Illinois to a summer cottage up in Wisconsin.”
The borer was recently found in some of Chicago’s ash trees and the first tree within city limits was cut down in late June. There are approximately 100,000 ash trees in Chicago, not counting the trees on private property or in city parks.
“The more people who know about it, the slower it will spread,” Horigan says. “And the slower it will spread, the more chance that somebody will come up with the way to resolve it, or Mother Nature will put it in check, or we come up with an insect-resistant variety of ash.”
The exhibition is scheduled for three other venues: Ryerson Woods in Deerfield, Ill., Sept. 21 to Oct. 4; the Häfele main showroom in Chicago, Oct. 7 to Nov. 3; and Design Within Reach in Chicago, Nov. 7 to Dec. 3.
Contact: Chicago Furniture Designers Association at, or visit for information.

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