Garry Olson grew up in Australia surrounded by Eucalyptus forests and has always had an affinity with wood. He was originally trained as a teacher but having travelled extensively he settled in England in 1978 and began a new career as a furniture maker.
As a craftsman he is largely self-taught but after gaining experience in two previous workshops he established his present premises in 1984. Ever since he has had a steady flow of commissions from private clients and various churches in the North West. He works mainly with homegrown hardwoods, and considers the sustainability of timber as a resource to be very important.
Garry has tutored in furniture design and cabinet making at Manchester College of Art and Technology (also taking City and Guilds qualifications), Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Central Lancashire.
He has organised and hosted several exhibitions of his own work combined with the work of others at his own workshop gallery in Wilmslow, Cheshire. The most significant of these were Furniture of Excellence in 1989 and 1990, and A Celebration of Wood in 1997. The latter show was in collaboration with Peter Toaig, who was sharing Garry's workspace at the time. As a result of the show Peter developed the idea of onetree and in March 1998, asked Garry to co-ordinate it with him (www.onetree.org.uk). Through the national touring exhibition and the accompanying book the onetree project has had a huge impact. It has become a large part of Garry's life but his main interest remains the making of bespoke furniture.
In 1998 my colleague, Peter Toaig, and myself launched the project called “onetree”. It involved felling a mature oak (a quintessentially British species) and distributing all parts to a range of selected artists and craftspeople whose work would then come together as a major exhibition.
Our aims were:
1. To raise public awareness of the value of trees as a resource.
2. To promote the arts and crafts in Britain.
3. To show timber as a beautiful and versatile material.
4. To raise funds for a tree planting project.
These aims were met with spectacular success and great acclaim. Seventy-five participants produced a fantastic range of items; over 100,000 people visited the exhibition; over 5,000 copies of the accompanying book were sold; scores of articles were written; the project was featured on television and radio; and a surplus of £24,500 was given to the Mersey Forest. They exist to establish woodland, and promote its benefits, in NW England. They used our money as a start-up fund to raise more capital to buy agricultural land adjoining an area of ancient woodland near the village of Dutton in Cheshire. Woodland Heritage manage the site and have planted trees on the land as a buffer zone to protect the ancient strip. This new wood, along with all its benefits to the environment and community, is our legacy.
The legacy doesn’t stop there as onetree has inspired numerous follow-up projects; all with similar aims to the original. To date we have been acknowledged by replicas in Canada, the United States, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Holland and Australia. In this country schemes have taken place in Edinburgh, Sheffield, Salisbury and Dorset.
The 2009/2010 “Kauri Project” in Australia was particularly exciting for me as I was invited to take part by making an item for their exhibition. It was organised by the Botanical Gardens in Sydney to recognise the demise of a giant Pacific Kauri that was killed by roosting flying foxes (fruit bats) in the gardens. Leon Sadubin, one of Australia’s best known craftsmen, co-ordinated the project very professionally and he hosted me in his studio. As an Australian by birth I felt that I had “completed the circle”. The exhibition took place at the Sydney Botanical Gardens in June and July, 2010 and I was very pleased to hear that my contribution, a blanket box, had sold.