Our Visit to a Magical Wonderland

28 February 2012 in Reviews, Traveling


Its a Burl

With age the whimsical fancy of our imaginations often fade. As children we were all capable of building fantastical worlds with just our minds and whatever was at hand. A stick became a sword, a thicket of trees a castle. We transformed into knights or wizards or ninjas. Anything was possible and there were no restrictions or limitations preventing these fantasies. But we lacked the abilities to make these dreamlike manifestations come to life in the physical realm of reality. Without carpentry skills, tools and increased strength these wonderlands retreated to memory with the ending of each day and soon were forgotten.

This is not the case at It’s a Burl. Situated just north of Cave Junction, Oregon in a tiny speck of a town called Kerby, It’s a Burl is a testament to the endurance of our imagination should we allow it to survive and thrive as adults. Too often as we age our imagination is supplemented by TV, film, and video games. We abandon our natural creative instincts in favor of what others can create for us. This is certainly not the case at It’s a Burl.

We had passed this place before while heading deeper into Oregon. It instantly made our list of things to do. Fifty yards or so of property butts right up against highway 199. The scenery of farms, trailer parks, and distant, tree covered hills is interrupted by an abrupt trip back into the recesses of our memory. You find yourself rubbing your eyes in shock that someone has created the world of which you only dreamed. There are many shops along the 101 and 199 selling art carved of Redwood and they all contain the works of skilled craftsman/artists. We’ve blogged about some of these before.

But here skill is met by the imagination of a child. Here the intent is not to sell, but to create without limitation. While they certainly have many, many beautifully polished pieces with large, but reasonable price tags you can tell the sales are only to feed their passionate and seemingly insatiable creative appetites.

Exiting our truck we started at the south end and worked our way north. The first piece we were greeted by was a small bridge spanning the creek, that, like many projects outside seemed in progress. The bridge was surrounded by several toad stools and mushrooms constructed of twisted branches topped with domed slices of the places namesake – burls. For those not well versed in the anatomy of Redwood trees (we weren’t until now) the burl is a growth that bubbles out of the bottom of many trees. It contains the fixings for new growth. Once the trunk of a tree is fatally damaged by wind, fire, or man this growth receives a signal and sprouts new trunks. This manner of reproduction is much more efficient than seeds because the new sprouts are able to take advantage of the existing roots and water supply.

Anyways, back to It’s a Burl. Next we approached a thirty foot tall fountain trickling purple water down the numerous cascaded tangles of a tipped over root system. Wandering further in it became hard to choose what to explore next. Towering high up into the trees were several tree forts and houses. Some were carefully, but imaginatively crafted enclosures just twelve feet off the ground. Others were open air platforms ascending three to four stories in the sky. A little closer to the ground we found old bike cars decorated with burls and branches and manned by dummies. Or tractors with scarecrow-like figures at the wheel. From several trees hung swinging benches and chairs constructed of abstract cuts of trunks and twisted branches and roots. With so much to see you can miss the hidden gems strewn about. Whether its a figure composed of twisted wire with random objects set in its tangles, the two story dog house, strange faces built with odd pieces of wood and brightly painted, or the many, many wizards hung throughout carved of single plaques of wood with massive, wavy beards.

It’s no wonder with all there is to discover it’s easy to overlook the surreal and brilliant architecture of the house/gallery. I had to do a double take after emerging from the land of my childhood fantasies. At first I thought the roof was collapsing in one spot, but after rubbing my eyes and taking in the whole building I noticed the big, red roof sloped, slanted and arched at several points. It was the modern equivalent of an enlarged hobbit house with red metal roofing instead of thatched straw. Besides an amazingly abstract roof the walls were sided with raw slices of trunk with bark intact and the windows were circles and squares set in odd places.

As we approached the giant wrap around porch the whimsy just increased. The front doors were a massive wood mosaic of a wizard with twisting iron hinges the shapes of dragons. The handles were highly polished sections of twisted branch. If the outside wasn’t enough to sufficiently blow our minds the inside would leave nothing but ashes. Inside the crude, loose style of the works outside is replaced by the refined work of an art gallery. The old tunes of Billy Holiday played lightly throughout and everything was sanded and polished to a glaring gleam. But the pieces did not lose their imaginative nature, if anything the creativity increased. The odd shapes, naturally occurring in wood were artfully crafted into benches, tables, and lamps as well as clocks, jewelry cases, and mirrors. There was also a bicycle constructed completely of wood and a rocking horse composed of gnarled wood. The head ended up looking more like a buffalo.

But the pieces displayed were not the only wonders to be seen. The gallery itself was a work of art. The supporting beams were all burled trunks and the odd curves and arches present outside were also present within. Everything from the structure to the wall coverings seemed to be done in objection to the norm. As long as it was unexpected it was admitted, but anything traditional was not allowed on these grounds. While the house was rightfully off limits a photo album within the gallery contained a detailed selection of pictures displaying the house and the construction of the building. The house contains amazingly crafted stair cases and even the floors are works of art.

There were two galleries separate to the main gallery. Again they were constructed with the same imaginative fancy as everything else. The larger of the two had huge round doors and windows.

As artists Lindsay and I have maintained some of our childlike creativity and imagination, but this place inspired us. Why abandon this wonder with age? What’s the purpose of growing up? There is a Neverland where we can remain young at heart and mind while being responsible adults. If you need proof just head to It’s a Burl.

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28 February 2012 Reviews, Traveling

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