Just this once, for its 175th anniversary, the Haverford arboretum is tooting its own horn - with all due dignity, of course, and with the same sense of history and permanence that a walk through this stately green place usually instills.
From Feb. 27 through March 29 at the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery in the campus center, four woodworkers, two of them alumni, will be featured in an exhibit called "Gardens and Grounds: A Celebration of Haverford's Landscape."
Tom Pleatman of Media, Class of '69; William Dorwart of Bala Cynwyd ('63); Brad Whitman of Wynnewood; and Dinyar Chavda of Whitemarsh will show wooden objects, both artistic and functional, that they've created from pruned, felled or fallen trees on campus. The wood includes Kentucky coffee, dogwood, cherry, box elder, Lebanese cedar, maple and linden, not all of them especially prized by craftsmen or considered attractive in the marketplace.
That actually suits Chavda, 57, a semiretired marketing consultant who went to college in India and got a master's of business administration degree from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. "I don't go for fancy woods," he says, "because the one time I did, I found myself too scared of wasting the piece I bought."
The show's other artists create exquisitely beautiful, and useful, objects like vases, bowls and goblets, pepper grinders and lamps or furniture. Chavda's pieces are beautiful, too, but they're not intended to hold anything, and you sit on them at your peril.
"I make absolutely useless stuff, and I'm proud of it," he declares.
But please look at this "useless stuff." Please hold it in your hands and rub it. People do, prompting Chavda to joke, "I should charge by the caress."
Caress might not be the precise word, considering the nature of these objects, which can be bumpy and jagged, asymmetrical and quite imperfect by most gallery standards.
Which is the point for Chavda, who salvages wood from friends, recycling centers, landscape companies, Dumpsters, tree-removal services, or the side of the road. "Giving wood a second chance," he calls it.
This does not mean he "corrects" imperfection. What is imperfection in nature, anyway? He celebrates rot and insect damage. He works around wormholes and cheers to see disease.
Though Chavda doesn't own this concept, his woodworking - technically called wood turning - is guided by it: "Beauty must never be held hostage to perfection."
"I could probably pay thousands of dollars to a psychiatrist to find out why I'm like this," he says.
Instead, he heads downstairs to a crowded basement workshop, happily losing himself for eight or nine hours at a pop. Safety equipment on, he slowly turns chunks of green wood on a 300-pound lathe.
He shapes and chisels them into pieces that are layered, round, flat, warped or abstract, in natural tones that dry to pale blond or caramel tan or moody brown.
Nothing is square or plumb. One piece looks like a gonzo potato chip. Chavda might sand or scratch the wood, bleach or oil it, carve some doodles, or pack the swirls with black acrylic. He even fills fissures with glued coffee grounds.
The idea is to accentuate, not hide, what some consider flaws in the wood. "You reveal the beauty that's in it and get out of the way," Chavda says.
It's surprising to learn that this is not a patient man. You'd think patience would be Qualification No. 1 for such a fine craft. On the contrary, Chavda relishes the instant gratification it provides.
Odd that the trees at Haverford College, 19 of which are state champions or the largest of their species in Pennsylvania, provide instant gratification to anyone. A spin around campus fills a visitor with the opposite sense, that here are things of such substance and tenure, we'll all be mulch before they falter.
An allee of mature red oaks lines College Lane, as you enter the campus from Lancaster Avenue. On a snow-melting day this week, there are no skaters on the duck pond to your left. Just seagulls lined up like military recruits, and ducks and Canada geese milling around in the mush.
The allee continues with overcup and swamp white oaks and young sugar maples, which glow red and yellow in fall.
You can hike a 2.2-mile nature trail around the campus. You can visit the Penn Treaty Elm, descended from the American elm under which William Penn signed his pact with the American Indians. You can amble over to Founders Green to see two oaks, a swamp white and a bur, that date to the original William Carvill landscape for the college, which was founded on farm fields by Welsh Quakers in 1833.
Historians consider Haverford "the oldest planned college landscape in the country." And it incorporated all the grand English traditions of its day: estate-style open lawns, allees, grape arbors, a serpentine walk, and trees.
Trees in circles of five and seven. Trees along the paths and lanes. Trees to accent corners and frame spaces.
Trees, says Mike Startup, one of three arboretum horticulturists, are a lot like people: "You have to pay attention to them. You can't disturb them. And you have to make sure they have what they need."
Trucks shouldn't park on top of their roots. Saplings should be babied for two years. "And trees need to be protected from humans," Startup says.
Older trees, and there are many here, can cope with adversity better because of their extensive root systems, he adds. That sounds like people, too.
Thoughts like this flow naturally as you walk the Ryan Pinetum by the college's baseball fields, down by Haverford Avenue. Here's today's scoreboard: no balls, no strikes, no outs or innings, and just one team.
That would be you and 300 pine trees, both imperfect and, in their own way, beautiful.
Contact gardening writer Virginia A. Smith at 215-854-5720 or email@example.com.
"Gardens and Grounds: A Celebration of Haverford's Landscape," an exhibition of handcrafted wood objects and historic pictures highlighting the beauty of Haverford College's trees and celebrating the 175th anniversary of its arboretum, will be displayed Feb. 27 through March 29 at Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery in the college's Whitehead Campus Center, 370 Lancaster Ave., Haverford.
Hours: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Wednesday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday noon to 5 p.m.
Extras: March 22, 1:30 p.m., "The Quaker Legacy of Trees," a lecture by Marty Kromer, Sharpless Auditorium, followed at 3 p.m. by a reception for arboretum members and friends, in the gallery.
Information: firstname.lastname@example.org, 610-896-1101 or www.haverford.edu/arboretum.