Robert M. Wayner
It was in a wood thicket outside Peoria, Illinois where I first began to construct furniture some twenty-five years ago. My childhood home
was adjacent to this dense woodland, separated by a rolling hill peppered with walnut, oak, cottonwood, and buckeye trees and at its
base a gentle winding creek. Here among the walnut trees and the hooting owls is where I learned to revere God and develop my
In these woods my childhood friend Dirk and I created our own imaginary country (aptly named Rodir , complete with boundaries, forts,
flags and sales tax. Elves and forest animals composed our formidable army and our dogs Audrey and Pokey were our emissaries to
the outside world. (At one point during her successful tenure, Pokey successfully bartered a unilateral peace agreement between Rodir
and the Soviet Union). In this imaginary world within the wilderness, Dirk and I altered cockleburr patches into war bunkers, built tree
forts to serve as lookout sentries, and placed Rodir reserve banks in hard to access gullies beneath massive exposed tree roots. Atop a
large hill that overlooked a portion of the creek we founded Rodir City, the capital of our fledgling wilderness country.
Along the trails scattered throughout Rodir I began to make crude tables and benches from large tree limbs that had been struck by
lighting or brought down in the ravines by storm water erosion. As elementary as these furniture pieces were, often nothing more than
large limbs scraped smooth and decorated with buckeyes sitting atop logs, they were nonetheless the artistic triumphs of my
emancipated ten-year old soul and the prototypes of the furniture I would design twenty years later. In this world I was fully content, my
imagination wholly unstifled and my desperate yearning for God satiated. I didn’t know it then, but those days would be the most
philosophically and artistically enriching days of my life. Years later I would read the famous W.B. Yeats poem, The Stolen Child, and feel
a deep, immediate resonance with its bittersweet theme.
I left home in my late teens to attend college in the Chicago suburbs, a very long way from the solitude of Rodir. After graduation, I moved
even farther away, into the concrete jungle of Chicago and spent my twenties driving a cab during the day and playing guitar/singing in
punk bands at night. It was a great period of my life; I met people from all over the world, saw architecture I could only dream of as a child,
and wrote hundreds of songs about bad girls, bad booze, and stray dogs.
But at the onset of my thirties, I found myself longing for a return to the simple life and contentment I knew as a child in the wilderness. I
began visiting my childhood home (much to my mother’s pleasure) as often as I could, and taking long hikes along the trails of Rodir, this
time with my dog Abby (a little bundle of fur I found shivering near the intersection of 119th and Halsted). And in November of 2000, I
began making furniture again.
Finally, in October of 2005 I opened Black Walnut Gallery. It is here that I design and sell my furniture made almost entirely of naturally
felled trees, just like the ones I made as a kid back in Rodir. I have come full circle and am right where I need to be. I have no other aim
other than to make sleek modern tables, benches, and bookcases that showcase the natural contours and beauty of wood just as it
came out of the forest. Not only do these pieces fit perfectly in an urban loft or modern condo, but also along the trails of Rodir, where
they first were conceived so long ago.