LIFELONG ARTIST ISAAC MOYER has been making things since he was a kid—drawings, paintings, photography and music—so it comes as no surprise that the wooden sculptural pieces he makes in his Charleston studio are incredibly artistic as well.
His striking portfolio is filled with tables, benches, desks, media centers, signs and household objects, like vases and wine holders—but Moyer’s pièce de résistance is his series of “root tables,” for which the beautifully gnarled root system of a fallen tree becomes the base of a one-of-a-kind glass-topped table.
Moyer is drawn to this line of tables specifically for the raw majesty that a barely-touched tree root provides. “I just want to display the beauty of the root,” he says. “When you peel the bark off, it reveals hidden character: a smooth surface with texture like rivers and ripples and curvy areas.”
Stripping the bark by hand is just one step in an arduous process that could take 40 hours to complete. The dedication required to pull off this type of project is impressive and demonstrates Moyer’s love for his craft.
The process of making a root table begins when Moyer sets out in his truck with a trailer and winch attached. “I go to the marshes and look for beautiful trees that have blown in during storms,” he says. “Normally, these trees would just be left to rot in these areas.”
Locally, he could find live oak, magnolia, pecan and fruit trees. Moyer also brings roots back to South Carolina from his home state of Pennsylvania, including black locust, black walnut, English walnut, cherry and apple varieties.
After hauling the goods home, Moyer strips the bark and mills the wood himself. Typically, in the case of the root table, he keeps its natural shape and character.
“It’s like sculpting—I’m really just removing unwanted parts to leave the best structure physically and visually,” he says.
For his wooden slab tables, he studies the trunk before making any cuts. “If the bark is swirled or twisted, that’s telling me what’s underneath it,” he says. “That informs what direction I mill the log in. There are completely different grains based on how it’s milled.”
Once finished, slab tables typically will still have a raw edge natural to the tree’s shape—or “live edge” in Moyer’s terminology. “There’s a lot of character and uniqueness to the live edge since they’re all different,” he says. Otherwise, if clients prefer straight edges, he’s happy to fulfill that or any other request for a custom project, no matter how big or small.
Recent requests included a miniaturized carousel horse, knife blocks, vases and bowls. “If people want a custom wooden door handle for their home build—whatever they need— I can make it,” he says.
Some of Moyer’s favorite requests involve making something from a tree that’s fallen on a client’s property. “I really love commemorating a tree that meant a lot to someone,” he says, whether that ends up being a slab table, root table or a small item, like a bowl or vase.
Moyer could be thought of as a sort of medium—bridging the tree’s afterlife with its usefulness in the current realm. “People like the idea of reclaiming something; it survives in a different form after its natural death,” he
says. “I’m so happy I get to provide that.”
Alaena Hostetter is a content strategist, editor and journalist who writes about art, design, culture, music, entertainment and food.