It is well that you should celebrate your Arbor Day thoughtfully, for within your lifetime the nation’s need of trees will become serious. We of an older generation can get along with what we have, though with growing hardship; but in your full manhood and womanhood you will want what nature once so bountifully supplied and man so thoughtlessly destroyed; and because of that want you will reproach us, not for what we have used, but for what we have wasted.
~Theodore Roosevelt, 1907 Arbor Day Message
One of the things I love about my job is having the ability to show others how we can be sustainable and still have a very beautiful home. Still happening today, old barns are being left to rot or burned to the ground. At Aurora Mills, we salvage what we can.
And at times we get comments like, “Well, I can buy this at ‘Big Box Store’ and it will be cheaper, more uniform in size, easier to work with……” But these timbers and beams simply can’t be bought at said Big Box Store. Not with it’s nearly 100 years of grain and full dimension and not to forget, character. In the hands of a crafts person, these pieces of timbers, beams and barn wood have their own kind of metamorphosis and become art.
Carpenter and craftsman, Malachi Milbourn of Against the Grain – Primitive Furniture and Design, is one of those seemingly quiet kind of guys. But when it comes to the topic of sustainability, trees and Portland, Oregon, he has much to say. Good things. The kind of things that make you proud to be an Oregonian.
I see Malachi almost every time he comes by Aurora Mills Architectural Salvage to buy his lumber but this summer I had the opportunity to speak in depth with him about his craft, sustainability and moving to Oregon. I visited him at his North Portland studio in the Piedmont neighborhood that he shares with artist Jennifer Kapnek.
Speaking with Malachi, one notices almost immediately is his deep love and respect for trees and nature. I know from previous conversations that Malachi is from Arizona so I wondered what would bring a desert dweller this far North? His story: A girl and a “crazy big Sequoia.”
As Malachi tells it, he and his girlfriend were traveling up The-5 on a vacation visiting National forests and parks when they reached Sequoia National Park. “The gynormity of the trees just blew my mind!” he said and right then realized how much more of America he needed to see. He and his girlfriend traveled to Yellowstone, Portland and Seattle. He says however about Portland that he “found a hidden gem.” Fast forward with that love for our relaxed Portlandian nature, Malachi moved North.
Malachi is able to gently coax beauty from Aurora Mill’s 80 plus year-old barn wood. He mentions that most people would rather build from newer wood because it is consistently the same but that is exactly why he doesn’t saying, “It is hard for some to see the beauty in this wood but there is a refined quality that is in there.”
With his business, Against the Grain, Malachi strives to make sustainable furniture by using sustainable materials. In doing so he feels he is paying respect to that tree and honoring that tree’s life. “Building from salvaged materials does take longer because each board, each timber or beam has it’s own story waiting to be told.” Malachi says there are plenty of other woods he could choose from but this is a right choice for him and how he chooses to conduct his business and life. Other woods he may incorporate into his furniture pieces come as locally as possible saying, “Local is the first gateway to sustainability.” He uses local finishes to make a smaller impact on the environment and is always conscientious about the amount of energy used to make a piece – trying to keep that impact as low as possible too. All scraps from his furniture projects are used. Larger scraps are used to make picture frames while smaller scraps are used for heating.
Last, I asked Malachi what has been his source of inspiration and without hesitation he said his grandfather, “He was 95 when he died last year. He was my father figure. He handed down his tools to me and the knowledge of how to use them.”
Throughout our conversation Malachi mentioned how grateful he is to be here in the Pacific Northwest. We too, are grateful he decided to make Portland his home.
Here is a video link of Malachi on Fox News. It is a segment on Green Living and is nicely done.
Malachi’s work may best be seen every first and last Thursday or by contacting him at his studio. Please take a moment to visit him on First Thursday’s on NW 13th in the Pearl District or on Last Thursday’s On Alberta Street. Or, please schedule a time to meet with him at his studio.
Against the Grain Studio: The Gallery of Reincarnated Wood
7401 N. Albina Ave. Portland, Oregon 97217
Jennifer Kapnek: Visual Artist
Malachi Milbourn: Furniture Maker
First & Last Thursday Art Shows
First Thursday in the Pearl District
This Street Gallery is found in the Pearl District between N.W. Hoyt and Kearney on 13th. Malachi is an active member within the Urban Art Network.
From 5 – 10 p.m. Seasonal April-November
Last Thursday on Alberta
The Alberta Sidewalk Show runs from about N.E.17th Ave. to 30th ave. on Alberta. From 5 – 10 p.m. Seasonal April-November
By: Louise Gomez Burgess at Aurora Mills Architectural Salvage