04 February 2013

Splinter City

Written by Published in Urban Living

 ©Images: James McNabb

Made entirely of scrap wood, The City Series is a collection of wood sculptures that represent a woodworker's journey from the suburbs to the city. Sublime talks to designer James McNabb about the art of making something out of nothing

Designer James McNabb was in the early stages of a complicated woodworking project when he idly picked up a piece of scrap wood. He turned on his band saw and began making small cuts, abandoning his thoughts to the hum of the saw and giving little consideration to what he was making. As the piece which started to take shape looked vaguely familiar, he grabbed another piece and made more cuts. In an hour he had made 15 and by the time the sun rose the next morning, he had a pile of more than 200. Without thinking, he realised he had created a small city of unique ideas: The City series was born. 

‘Made entirely from scrap wood, the series is cut intuitively, and every piece is different from the next. The collection of striking, intricate pieces has won 28-year-old James recognition from around the world and shows the potential in what can seem to be useless resources. 

‘I enjoy the idea of making something new from the by-products of other work,’ James told Sublime.

‘I even saved the small scraps from making my scrap wood cities, and plan to make something else from them. This is my way of making something out of nothing. When I turn the machine on, the stresses of the world go away. That part of the process is meditative and very therapeutic. I feel like I’m wandering through ideas and working through them in the material as they come to me.’

James, who works out of a small studio in Pennsylvania, USA, said he feels humbled by the positive response to the series and hopes he can inspire other creative projects in turn. And does the work have a political message? About the need to conserve resources perhaps? ‘I’m not doing anything that many other responsible woodworkers are doing,’ he said. 

‘But I am excited about making this out of otherwise discarded material. It’s not just an environmental issue: it’s good economical practice.’


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