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Theaster Gates Next Project Is A Lumber Mill For City's Dead Ash Trees

By Sam Cholke | November 3, 2016 4:15pm
 Theaster Gates' Rebuild Foundation has been collecting the city's dead ash trees to mill and use to make tables and other items.
Theaster Gates' Rebuild Foundation has been collecting the city's dead ash trees to mill and use to make tables and other items.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

GRAND CROSSING — Artist Theaster Gates is bringing together artists and craftsmen with underemployed people looking for new skills through the new Dorchester Industries project and planning a lumber mill to supply the raw materials.

The work produced by trainees working with potters and woodworkers will be on display — and for sale — at the annual benefit for Gates’ Rebuild Foundation at the Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave.

Gates announced the new project this week, but it’s clear the project has been working quietly in the background to construct all the tables for the annual dinner and many of the items available in the benefit auction.

 Theaster Gates' Rebuild Foundation wants to convert this old ComEd substation into a lumber mill for all of the city's dead ash trees.
Theaster Gates' Rebuild Foundation wants to convert this old ComEd substation into a lumber mill for all of the city's dead ash trees.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

Potter Koichi Ohara has helped create ceramic Japanese tea and sake cup sets with custom wooden boxes milled from ash trees felled by the city of Chicago. Each set is currently listed for $5,000 on the auction site Paddle8.

Working with custom milled ash seems to be an increasingly large component of Gates’ new skills training focus and the Rebuild Foundation also announced plans to build a lumber mill in a former ComEd substation at 6913 S. Kenwood Ave.

Until recently, Gates said he was unsure what he would do with a former ComEd substation, but had been piling up outside every ash tree he could get from the city, which has felled hundreds of ash trees killed by emerald ash borer beetles in recent years.

Gates was not unavailable to comment.

He briefly said the substation could become a space for meditation and tea ceremonies, which would fall in line with plans announced in September to convert the 13 vacant lots around the substation into gardens.

The program, dubbed the Ash Project this week, remains in its infancy and its unclear still when if it will move into the substation before the gardens are completed in three years.

Craftsmen have already started working with the new supply of lumber and have created tables, with one listing on the benefit auction for an estimated $15,000.

Artists Antony Gormley, Anselm Kiefer, Eddie Peake and Gates himself are also listing new work in the auction.

Tickets to the benefit range from $1,000 for a single seat to $50,000 for a table for eight, with the option to take home the custom-made plates, bowls and the table itself.

For more information, visit the Rebuild Foundation web site.

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