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Alison Crowther : Optimism and responsible sourcing

“Keen to learn about safe timbers and to help communicate this to other designers and craftspeople” – Alison Crowther shares her views on responsible timber sourcing, designs for our Climate Competition and working with purpleheart.

With a month to go until the Conversations about Climate Change competition closes (24th August), Alison Crowther shares some of her views on responsible sourcing, her designs for the competition and experiences working with purpleheart.

Capturing my attention with her ‘Glyndebourne Kissing Benches‘, shortlisted at the Wood Awards in 2019, I contacted Alison regarding our Conversations about Climate Change design competition and exhibition (5th Nov – 5th Dec), with a hope to see her ideas and inspired designs in relation to our competition brief.


Alison Crowther, a sculptor and furniture maker born in West Yorkshire, with a sensitivity to the environment and portraying work with a ‘complex geometry of nature’. Graduating from the Royal College of Art in 1989, Alison received commissions internationally including Winchester Cathedrals 1996, projects exhibited at the Shangri-La Hotel, Rothschild Foundation, Sheraton Resort Hotel and corporate head offices.

Experimenting with purpleheart from TTF member W.L.West and Sons Ltd you can view Alison’s journey and designs on her Instagram (@alisoncrowther).

Purpleheart has similar strength properties to American white oak and greenheart, available throughout tropical America and Guyana. Guyana and Honduras in South America are both working towards the EU FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade) Action Plan against illegal logging and subsequent illegal timber trade.

As an inspiration of mine and many other designers, Alison provides positivity for the future and a sneak peek at her design entry.

Lucy: How do you view using and specifying timber as a mitigative method in the climate emergency?

Alison: I think it has always been important to use and specify timber that we know to be responsibly sourced for a number of very important reasons, and this was instilled right from college days as a student designer, but in recent years it has become clear that a more pressing message about the link to averting climate change could be exploited.

There are many misconceptions around using timber and timber products, and this could be an opportunity to try and make the facts clear, do away with some of those myths…

Lucy: What is your favourite project you have worked on? 

Alison: That is easy – it has to be the Scale Tree project, three sculptures designed for the lobby of a new multi-functional tower building in Shenzhen Bay, China, that we completed in 2017.

The timber used was sourced from a local estate – that has been well-managed for centuries and the oak trees grown as a legitimate crop. I had up to five timber-frame master carpenters working with me on the biggest of the 3 sculptures, Scale Tree I, that is five metres tall.

Lucy: How would you describe your work?

Alison: Contemporary art, furniture, sculpture, craft…

Lucy: Your work is exclusively with English Oak sourced from UK Woodlands, can you elaborate on why?

Alison: That really developed from my research and work whilst doing my masters degree in furniture design at the RCA – English Oak because of its longevity, particularly outdoors, it’s availability, and its historical associations from druids alters to Henry VIII’s tall ships.

It has become increasingly important to me to source timber as locally to the studio as possible, from well-managed sources. I have developed some wonderful working relationships with forestry managers and timber suppliers.

Lucy: What was your first impression of the Conversations about Climate Change brief?

Alison: I am happy to be able to contribute to the debate in a hopefully meaningful way. I am nervous about using tropical timber – this is something I have definitely steered clear of so far in my career because of the negative connotations. However, I am keen to learn more about safe timbers and to help communicate this to other designers and craftspeople.

Lucy: Could you give us any information about how your designs are coming to life?

Alison: The tiny piece of purple heart that I was able to obtain locally West ands Sons Ltd (and I was amazed to be able to get some literally from down the road…and from a supplier I have had dealings with for many years), made me immediately think to continue my recent ‘hand-held’ sculpture series, the ‘Votives’.

So I am having a go at carving two tiny sculptures, one of which is infact a tiny ‘Scale Tree’.

Lucy: What is the biggest opportunity and challenge you see looking into the future? Do you feel largely pessimistic or optimistic for the future?

Alison: As human beings we have lived and worked with trees, wood and timber for thousands of years. The challenge is to continue that opportunity in a sustainable way.

You have to have faith for the future. I think most designers and artists are optimists.

Lucy: What other design opportunities are on the horizon?

Alison: I think the exponential development of communication systems makes the sharing of ideas and knowledge so exciting. I am really looking forward to building my own studio on land I bought just before lockdown, where I have the freedom to explore pushing my ideas further and sharing my knowledge with the next generation of designers, makers and craftspeople.

We look forward to seeing all the entries to our Conversations about Climate Change competition once the competition closes on the 24th August. Find out more and enter here.

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