Bench made from Champion Cottonwood
December 4, 2013

Olberding’s Champion Cottonwood Bench


As a photojournalist and wedding photographer, I love photographing people. But, some of my most memorable shooting days have been in the studio shooting inanimate objects. Two weeks ago I had the honor of making photos of a beautiful piece called “Transition” created by Boulder County craftsman Chris Olberding.

Bench made from Champion CottonwoodChris was one of a handful of woodworkers asked to create pieces from Boulder County’s Champion Cottonwood tree located just outside Longmont in the little hamlet of Hygiene. The tree, known for being the largest plains cottonwood in North America, was pronounced dead in 2012 by Boulder County officials after a nearly 50-year reign as a Champion.

Woodworkers were only allowed to harvest fallen branches. From there, the wood was taken to their workshops where they crafted benches, bowls, tables and jewelry boxes. Chris mentioned the difficulty working with the soft wood but he enhanced the beauty of its grain pattern by joining the top and side pieces of the bench in a waterfall that looks as if the grain pours from the top to the side.

I photographed the bench on a Monday morning before Chris delivered it to the Longmont Museum & Cultural Center for exhibit. The exhibit opened the following Friday and I was excited to see his piece displayed alongside other works. When I arrived, I was amazed at the range of items dreamed up by local craftsmen. From bowls filled with wooden eggs to small carved chapels, the exhibit, Carve! Selected Works from the Champion Cottonwood shows a diversity of talent and creativity of the artists. The show runs through January 20.

I stopped by Chris Olberding’s website Urban Woods of Colorado before photographing the bench and was impressed by his approach to making furniture. He uses wood that he harvests from trees that are taken down because they are threatening a foundation, in a right-of-way or diseased. He usually finds the wood in urban areas – hence the name Urban Wood. Sounds like a good way to repurpose wood which might otherwise end in a fireplace or chipped into mulch. And, an added benefit is all the wood is Colorado grown, not sourced from a big box store.

Finding inspiration to shoot a beautiful object like Chris’ bench is easy, especially if you know the rich history and care that went into making it. Being a photographer has allowed me to enrich my life through the people I meet. It’s one of the fringe benefits. You get to meet a diverse range of people that do amazing work and have a different take on life. Even when I don’t get to photograph the people themselves, I get to make images of their beautiful work. Often their work speaks louder than they do about themselves. If you’re looking to have your beautiful work photographed, drop us a line.

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Chris Stark
Wedding Photojournalist at Stark Bellamy Photography
Chris Stark is an award-winning photojournalist and former news photographer who honed his craft at several Colorado newspapers. Documentary wedding photography translates perfectly into Chris' fly-on-the-wall style. Chris lives in Longmont, Colorado with his wife and daughter and spends his free time on the bike or hiking with his family.