Design from Destruction
Craftsman Robin Wade
Helps a Small Town Rebuild – with Furniture
Sustainable furniture and precision craftsmanship are rarely combined with charitable fundraisers and viral international media stories, but that’s what happened with Robin Wade of Robin Wade Furniture.
Wade takes downed local trees to make natural, beautiful, usually functional works of art as part of the pursuit of sustainable manufacturing practices. His furniture is shaped by hand, using age-old woodworking skills alongside modern tools.
In April of 2011, dozens of tornadoes struck the American Southeast, especially Alabama. One of the hardest hit towns was Phil Campbell, not far from Wade’s studio in Florence. Nearly half the town of Phil Campbell was physically wiped out, and twenty-seven died in a town of only a thousand people.
Wade wanted to help in the aftermath, but didn’t know how. Then he heard about a group of people named Phil Campbell who were organizing to help their namesake town. The Phil Campbells, twenty in all, hailing from Alaska to Australia, were planning to arrive six weeks after the tornados, and were being covered by HYPERLINK "http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/43446850" \l "43446850" NBC Nightly News, HYPERLINK "http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/video/phil-campbell-save-town-phil-campbell-destroyed-by-tornado-share-name-us-13871747" ABC Nightly News, HYPERLINK "http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/18/us/18alabama.html?_r=2" The New York Times, HYPERLINK "http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=137231291&m=137231265" NPR, HYPERLINK "http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-13818591" BBC World News, HYPERLINK "http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/18/us-tornado-alabama-philcampbell-idUSTRE75H2AQ20110618" Reuters, HYPERLINK "http://blog.al.com/wire/2011/05/world_of_phil_campbell_prepare.html" Associated Press, HYPERLINK "http://www.cbc.ca/asithappens/episode/2011/06/17/friday-june-17-2011-1/" CBC, and many other outlets.
Wade went to see the Phil Campbells, who arrived in time for the town’s hoedown, and was stunned by what he saw. Instead of residents standing around, paralyzed by the tornado’s terrible power, he saw friendly faces everywhere, with people wearing shirts announcing their refusal to be daunted by the devastation. There was a parade. And there were the Phil Campbells, who stood out because they sported "I'm with Phil" shirts and were being given a hero’s welcome. In six short weeks these working-class Phils had created an international viral media storm to raise awareness for the town, raising $42,000 along the way.
Wade approached the “lead” Phil Campbell, Brooklyn Phil, and offered to help. A few months later Brooklyn Phil returned to meet Wade in Phil Campbell, a TV crew from the Oprah Winfrey Network trailing him. Wade picked out a tree, and with the mayor’s help Brooklyn Phil called a work crew armed with chainsaws. The downed tree chosen by Wade for his “I’m with Phil” contribution was an oak tree that was still standing, though nothing was left but its bare trunk. The work crew soon had the tree, which stood about four hundred yards from the Phil Campbell town hall, on a trailer in the back of Wade’s truck.
Returning to his Florence, Alabama studio, Wade immediately milled the log into flitch cut natural edge slabs, retaining the shape of the tree. The slabs were then stacked and air dried, slowly - naturally, before going into the kiln for the final cure. After more than a year the lumber was back from the kiln and ready for shaping. Wade completed a beautiful cocktail table and smaller side table in mid-July 2013.
Wade is donating both tables to Brooklyn Phil, who is still in the business of helping the little town of Phil Campbell, Alabama.
Brooklyn Phil Campbell is now the executive producer of the documentary I’m with Phil, and he’s working with director Andrew Reed, a Phil Campbell resident. Both Campbell and Reed pledge to donate the majority of net profits from the film back to the town of Phil Campbell.
Brooklyn Phil said, “I love what Robin Wade did. He created not only two gorgeous pieces of furniture, he also made for the town a symbol of rebirth – a dead tree, destroyed by a tornado, repurposed into something new, both beautiful and functional. Of all the stories from the ‘I’m with Phil’ fundraising I experienced or heard, this is my absolute favorite. Wade told through his craftsmanship a true story of hope.”
Campbell and Reed plan to sell the tables to help fund the film, even as they try to use the film to find new, more innovative ways to help the tornado-devastated town of Phil Campbell. Meanwhile, the tables having, been on display at the Frank Lloyd Wright – Rosenbaum House, they will now be on display at the Museum of Alabama's History and Archives building during their grand opening this Saturday, February 15, in Montgomery, Alabama, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Robin Wade “Brooklyn” Phil Campbell
(A very special video was made of Robin Wade, his practices, and these tables: HYPERLINK "https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jUb4cs8SBI" \t "_blank" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jUb4cs8SBI
For more information on the tables, i.e. dimensions and how to buy them if you do not live near the Frank Lloyd Wright – Rosenbaum House in Florence, Alabama, please contact Robin Wade or Brooklyn Phil)