Women of Woodworking – Lynette Breton, Part II – The Ancient Bog Oak Flower Press

Woodworker Lynette Breton’s heirloom flower presses are made to preserve history in more ways than one. In addition to their purpose of saving flowers and precious memories, the presses themselves are constructed from repurposed historic materials. As Lynette resides in Harpswell, Maine, there are plenty of opportunities to find those storied materials in her area.

One of Lynette’s presses in particular stands out in both the color of its grain and the legend behind it. It’s made of ancient Estonian Bog Oak, and Lynette was kind enough to share the story behind the wood, and how it found it’s way to her shop.

“The story of the Ancient Bog Oak, of which this flower press is made, is a current day folk tale beginning in Estonia, possibly 1300 years ago. The oak tree was 500 years old when it fell into the bog. It had lived out its natural life span. Being a 500 year old tree with a substantial girth and height, it was prized by the Russian Czars and was forbidden to be used by anyone for fear of loss of life. 

Here it lay, submerged for what they say could be 800 years, minutely changing its color over time. The combination of the minerals that existed were mixing with the oak’s tannins, steeping itself into a black beauty. It also was beginning to petrify, which I experienced from the dulling of cutting tools used to shape it as well as an almost stone    like polishing that happened when it was sanded.

When Estonia was free of Russian Czar rule the people of a small town, where the trees lived, decided to unearth the wood. With the fear of death removed, they knew that these trees were not only special but also could fetch a good price in the market. So, in the mid 1990s a Canadian lumber company got involved and went to Estonia to mine the logs. 

These preserved logs were dredged up, caked with debris and saturated with moisture. The sawyers had to carefully chain saw off this debris without destroying the wood. Once clean enough to see their form, the trees were planked up into slabs and underwent a special drying process. Wet wood like this must be dried slowly to prevent any cracking, making it unusable.

The wood was moved to the basement of a local church where it was stickered and covered in burlap. It was kept moist by the school children whose building was next door to the church. Their project was to come and water the trees by wetting the burlap, making sure that the surfaces were covered and sufficiently protected. I imagine this task of bringing back new life to the wood was a shared feeling for the people of this small town.

The initial drying process went on for one and a half years before being shipped to North America. The wood was further dried with a slow drying kiln to facilitate this special process. However, there was no way to prevent the checking and cracking that  did occur and the wood had to be used by someone interested in designing with it and remaining open to the unexpected. The wood had many, many internal cracks and flaws that one could not see unless it was cut into. Working this way is a costly endeavor and the wood was rejected by someone who had purchased all of it, site unseen, only to return it to the lumber yard, in New Hampshire, where I found it.

I did build two pieces of furniture from it, both of which were personal altars. The Ancestral Table and the Prayer Table, built as shrines to honor the material. But in the process of working it, many pieces of wood could not be used. I saved every possible piece and these small usable pieces that have become the flower press still hold the essence of a real life sleeping beauty.”

This winter Lynette is “doing a new run, with new old wood” of presses. They include Chestnut from the sill of a historic house in Maryland that was built in the 1800’s. Another features European Linden, shipped from England and designed into a piece of property by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1882. “He was considered ‘the Father of Landscape Architecture’ and designed Central Park. It fell in a 2017 storm, here in Maine,” shared Lynette. She hopes to find more pieces of bog oak to make more of presses of that, too.

To get in touch with Lynette or view more of her work:

IG: @lynettebretondesign

FB: Lynette Breton Design

W: lynettebretondesign.com

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