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From Home Furnishing Business

Furniture Craftsman Comes to Aid of Small Town

tree.jpgphilcampbelltable.jpgSustainable furniture and precision craftsmanship are rarely combined with charitable fundraisers and viral media stories, but that's what happened with Robin Wade of Robin Wade Furniture.

Wade's small operation in Florence, Ala., takes downed local trees to make natural, beautiful, functional works of art as part of the pursuit of sustainable manufacturing practices. The furniture is shaped by hand, using traditional woodworking skills alongside modern tools. Examples of his work are on display during this week's Las Vegas Furniture Market in the Ekornes showroom, WMC-A735.

In April of 2011, dozens of tornadoes struck the Southeast, especially Alabama. One of the hardest hit towns was Phil Campbell, not far from Wade’s studio in Florence. Nearly half the town of Phil Campbell was physically wiped out, and 27 died in a town of only a thousand people.

Wade wanted to help in the aftermath. Then he heard about a group of people named Phil Campbell who were organizing to help their namesake town. The Phil Campbells, 20 in all, hailing from Alaska to Australia, were planning to arrive six weeks after the tornados, and were being covered by NBC Nightly News, ABC Nightly News,  The New York Times, NPR and many other outlets.

Wade went to see the Phil Campbells, who arrived in time for the town’s hoedown. The Phil Campbells, who stood out because they sported "I'm with Phil" shirts, were being given a hero’s welcome. In six short weeks these working-class Phils had created an international viral media event to raise awareness for the town, along with $42,000.

Wade approached the “lead” Phil Campbell, "Brooklyn Phil," and offered to help. A few months later Brooklyn Phil returned to meet Wade in Phil Campbell, a TV crew from the Oprah Winfrey Network trailing him. Wade chose a tree, and with the mayor’s help Brooklyn Phil called a work crew armed with chainsaws. The downed tree chosen by Wade for his “I’m with Phil” contribution was an oak tree that was still standing, though nothing was left but its bare trunk. The work crew soon had the tree, which stood about 400 yards from the Phil Campbell town hall, on a trailer in the back of Wade’s truck.

Wade milled the log into flitch-cut natural edge slabs, retaining the shape of the tree. The slabs were then stacked and air dried before going into the kiln for the final cure. After more than a year the lumber was back from the kiln and ready for shaping. Wade completed a beautiful cocktail table and smaller side table in mid-July 2013. 

Wade is donating both tables to Brooklyn Phil, who is still in the business of helping the little town of Phil Campbell, Ala.  "Brooklyn Phil" Campbell now is executive producer of the documentary I’m with Phil, and he’s working with director Andrew Reed, a Phil Campbell resident. Both Campbell and Reed pledge to donate the majority of net profits from the film back to the town of Phil Campbell.

“I love what Robin Wade did. He created not only two gorgeous pieces of furniture, he also made for the town a symbol of rebirth--a dead tree, destroyed by a tornado, repurposed into something new, both beautiful and functional," Brooklyn Phil said. "Of all the stories from the ‘I’m with Phil’ fundraising I experienced or heard, this is my absolute favorite. Wade told through his craftsmanship a true story of hope.”

Campbell and Reed plan to sell the tables on Kickstarter to help fund the film, even as they try to use the film to find new, more innovative ways to help the tornado-devastated town of Phil Campbell. Meanwhile, the tables are on display at the Frank Lloyd Wright--Rosenbaum House in Florence.

Click here for a short video of Robin Wade's contribution to the effort.

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