BOISE – One cloud over the renovation and expansion of the Idaho Statehouse was the loss of 11 trees from the Capitol grounds.
An oak planted by Benjamin Harrison in 1891 was among them. So was an Ohio buckeye planted by William Taft in 1911. Idaho’s third presidential tree, a maple planted by Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, blew down before the renovation, and the wood was stashed under the Statehouse steps.
The other trees were either too large or too sick to move. Crews cut them down two years ago.
But 4,000 board feet of the wood was not lost, thanks to Rep. Max Black, R-Boise, an ardent woodworker.
He organized a drive to save the wood and cure it, and then enlisted Idaho woodworkers to donate their talents to transform the fallen trees into homegrown art.
Sixty woodworkers from around the state took on the challenge.
So far, about 25 pieces have been completed.
They sit in an Idaho Historical Society warehouse in Boise. They’ll be unveiled when the Statehouse reopens in January.
The local woodworkers seem to have had history on their minds and aimed for something beyond creating a beautiful object.
Norm Stanfield, of Boise, a retired aerospace engineer, made a replica of a library chair that unfolds into a ladder.
He saw the design in a Montgomery Ward catalog from 1890. The wood for his chair came from a tree planted on the Statehouse grounds in the same era.
“It’s always nice to have your work out where people will see it,” Stanfield said.
He’s now working on a second library chair to keep. That’s part of the deal. Woodworkers who donate get a share of Statehouse wood for themselves.
Black’s own contribution is a wooden replica of the Oregon Short Line train that brought all three presidents to Idaho.
Boise geologist Kevin Schroeder is making a Windsor chair out of five different woods, including pieces of the Roosevelt maple. He’s using hand tools that a woodworker might have used the year the maple was planted.
One Statehouse icon, the gold statue of George Washington on horseback, is getting a new base made from historic wood, inlaid with slabs of black marble.
One of the most unusual pieces to come in so far is a fiddle made by local craftsman Frank Daniels. Daniels cut the wood from the stump of the Harrison tree himself.
Most of the collection is destined for an enviable display spot, the barrel-vaulted statuary hall excavated from a warren of legislative offices on the fourth floor.
Black is planning an open house in January to introduce the collection to the public. Entertainment will include a performance on Daniels’ all-Idaho fiddle.