Andres Schneiter thought he was going to retire from his custom furniture business, and then he got the tree of a lifetime – the biggest maple tree in Maple Ridge.
It’s a tree he drove past on the Lougheed Highway and admired for the 40 years he has lived here, its branches shading the entire front yard. He thought it must be the oldest living thing in the area.
“I’ve always loved that tree. It’s one you just can’t miss,” he said.
A big leaf maple is old at 100 years, but this one is 180. The proprietor of MapleArt Custom Furniture has only seen its equal once, in Stanley Park. There’s another nice one in Oregon he found with a Google search, but it’s not as big as this one, he says.
About 15 years ago, he saw the giant maple being pruned and stopped in at the property, located right across the highway from the Quality Inn. He asked that if the tree ever had to come down – God forbid – could they please contact him.
Years passed with him admiring the tree from afar, until recently he was driving by just as a chainsaw was being put to the trunk. He did a quick U-turn. The property had been sold to a developer, with a condition of sale being the removal of the tree. They agreed the local artist could have it.
“For a woodworker like me, you might have one tree like this in your lifetime,” he said.
Schneiter makes a variety of unique products, like tables from a single polished piece of wood, with the bark left to create a “live edge.”
His work goes all over the world, with much of it shipped to the U.S. and Europe, and some closer to home in Whistler. There are also four or five pieces in Maple Ridge – custom dining tables and front doors. The massive four-metre-wide trunk is about seven and a half tonnes. There might be 10 tables in it. Maple is fairly hard, “very showy,” and is a good, stable wood to work with, he said.
There is a beautiful burl about a metre in diameter, and after it is polished he hopes that it can be displayed on the section of trunk about four metres high.
“Like a totem pole, but created by nature.”
It’s a way the tree can live on, he said.
And Schneiter wants something unique from the massive roots of this tree. He sees them becoming unique piece of furniture, such as a convention centre table – one that would have to be dropped into place during the construction of a building. It is about seven metres in diameter.
“I want to work with architects and other artists, to create truly a masterpiece.”
He pictures a huge table with a glass top, displaying its “beautiful curves, burls and intricate root system.”
The artist has been painstakingly uncovering the roots for three months, doing much of the work by hand.
“It’s like an archeological dig.”
He talks to the tree as he works, asking “Louisa” what she would like to become.
She’s obviously a woman he says, looking down at the curvy roots.
Schneiter literally spends hours working to expose the roots, and talking to what remains of the three.
“Sometimes people comment.”
Soon he will have a crane lift the root bowl out, and turn it upside down. Then he will begin pressure washing and pruning it.
“You cannot be rushed. I have ideas now, but once it’s out, those ideas might change,” he said.
“Something tells me it’s going to be good.”
His parents are Swiss and his youth was spent in Chile and Switzerland, where he became an electrical engineer, with expertise in microwave and telecommunications.
He had done an apprenticeship in industrial arts in Switzerland, and woodwork was a longtime hobby. He and his wife Brigitta built their log home in Maple Ridge, and he built the furniture inside. So in 2003 he started working as an artist.
It was a struggle for a few years, but now he turns away business.
Schneiter is 65 now, and says he’s got a good two or three years of work from Louisa.
“I was thinking of retiring, but so much for retiring,” he said.
“I’m having a lot of fun with this, and who retires at 65?”