Wooden Bowls Made From Trees Growing in Bethesda Neighborhoods

Hardwood Heirlooms

Wooden bowls remind Bethesda neighbors of trees removed from their yards

| Published:
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Artist woodworker KC Cromwell uses repurposed wood to make bowls and other items. Photo by Deb Lindsey

For years, Andrea Witt enjoyed the shade provided by a towering tulip poplar in her backyard and gazed at its large trunk from the windows of her Bethesda home. Now she owns beautiful wooden bowls that were made from the tree after it was cut down last year.

The 100-foot tree had been in decline since it was struck by lightning in 2011. Witt turned to her trusted arborist—aptly named Forest Bowen—to try to save the tree by trimming its limbs and treating its roots, but eventually it became clear that the tree would not rebound.

“It was such a massive tree that if it fell on someone’s house, it would have obliterated it,” Witt says. She decided to have the tree cut down at the same time that next-door neighbor Sharon Washburn was planning to remove an ash tree that had died from damage caused by the emerald ash borer, a type of beetle. So, in October 2018, the Huntington Parkway residents hired a tree removal company to cut down the trees, estimated to have been at least 75 years old, and grind their stumps at a cost of about $13,000 for the poplar and $11,500 for the ash. Witt and her husband, Michael, who moved to Huntington Parkway in 1994 and raised their two daughters there, mourned how the view from the house changed with the removal of the tree, one of two tulip poplars that framed a carefully landscaped backyard.

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Andrea Witt in her Bethesda backyard.

“The tree was a big part of our life,” Andrea Witt says. “We raked all the leaves from it. It shaded the house. When we built the addition, we planned everything around not disrupting the roots of the tree. …We were amazingly attached to it.”

Instead of having the tree company haul away the wood, Washburn, an architect, had an idea for how to resurrect something from the loss of her 40-foot tree. She contacted KC Cromwell, an artist woodworker from Culpeper, Virginia, who uses repurposed wood from trees, barns and houses to make bowls, furniture and other items. Washburn had been buying Cromwell’s bowls for years at the Bethesda Central Farm Market, where he sets up shop on Sundays, and given them as wedding gifts. Clients of Washburn’s who were having trees removed would often be referred to Cromwell, who has operated his business, Affinity Woodworks, since 2009.

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A bowl created from the wood of a 100-foot tulip poplar has a black scorch mark from where the tree was once struck by lightning. Photo by Deb Lindsey

Cromwell agreed to haul away the ash wood and made Washburn a bowl from a piece of it. Witt wanted her poplar to have a second life, as well, so she donated the wood to Cromwell, and over the past year he made a bowl for her along with others that he expects to sell. Witt bought nine bowls, including some to give her daughters, now ages 19 and 23, as keepsakes.

“My husband jokes that the tree keeps costing us more and more every day,” Witt says. “I wanted to have some remembrance. Eventually this [house] won’t always be home for our kids, but this is where they started out.”

Washburn and her husband, Patrick Southerland, are buying four bowls made from their tree and plan to give a nesting set of two to their 29-year-old daughter and her husband.

Having a keepsake in their homes and to give to their daughters is “pretty sentimental and emotional,” Cromwell says. “It’s something [that] every day for the rest of their lives they will remember that tree and that house. Those are the types of things that make lasting impressions in a family.”

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Cromwell sets up shop on Sundays at the Bethesda Central Farm Market. Photo by Deb Lindsey

Cromwell says about one-third of his business involves custom orders using repurposed wood. He eventually plans to make a total of about 50 bowls from the poplar and 100 from the ash. The bowls, which are sealed with mineral oil and beeswax, come in a variety of sizes and can be used to serve food. The bowls range in price from $200 to $400. One made from the poplar has a black scorch mark from the lightning strike.

Meanwhile, the Huntington Parkway neighbors say they are enjoying backyards filled with more sunlight now that the trees are gone. Witt says she appreciates seeing blue sky through her skylight. Next door, Washburn plans to install solar panels on her roof.

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