Wood as wine: mango

Wood as wine: mango

Run your hand along the grain and you feel the grooves, deep and firm. You may think of weathered barn boards or cracked old leather. That sense of rustic serenity is mango wood expressing its central character. Yet despite its air of power, mango is graceful and precise. Stare at it long enough and you find symmetry, a sense of order and even dignity in the grain and the markings of distress.

There's always beauty to be found in that toughness, too. Some highly figured pieces sport curvaceous loops and sweeping curlicues, especially around knots. In other pieces of mango, the grain is exposed in dots and streaks, a geometry of contrasting light and dark.

Getting lost in the wood, we can even forget why humans have cultivated the mango tree for at least four millennia. Everyone with functioning taste buds can remember the reason. Our relationship with this wonderful tree, the Mangifera indica, started with the fact that it produces a delicious fruit, which remains the tree's primary purpose. Over these many centuries, the mango tree has taken on a multitude of meanings. It is held to be a symbol of love, for example. And Buddhists recall these many centuries later that mango boughs would have shaded Siddhartha Gautama as he taught and meditated in the leafy parks of northern India. Mangoes join the rose-apple and the jackfruit in the pantheon of succulent tropical fruits you encounter in the Buddhist scriptures, perhaps as a symbol of temptation.

As with France's famous Chardonnay grape, mangoes have been carried abroad and planted almost anywhere they will take root, making the tree plentiful across Asia. A backyard mango tree is a common sight in some of those countries. And its plentitude, its everyday-ness, makes the mango tree a particularly responsible source of wood. While a mango tree can live for a century, the tree only fruits efficiently for 15 or 20 years, after which it is replaced to make room for a younger sapling. Artemano makes use of the wood from the trees that are past their best fruiting years, ensuring that nothing goes to waste. The tree embodies the cycle of life, an idea with roots as deep in Asia as the tree itself.

Offering density with a fine grain, mango also submits readily to carving, and for this reason it has served as a sculptor's material for centuries. Furniture featuring finely carved detail is often made from mango, and echoes the carved windows and doors that have been made for millennia in Asia.

And while mango always carries an air of quiet solidity, the actual appearance changes from piece to piece. Mango wood is a chameleon. A shapeshifter. Connoisseurs of exotic wood might take pleasure in recognizing some of them from across the room. Indian rosewood is unmistakably rosewood, for example, and suar gives off a glow you can't miss once you've become acquainted. In its natural state, mango wood generally ranges from light to dark brown with a yellowish cast. But mango is tricky; always the actor, it slips into the role it was destined to play. Over here, a piece of furniture that has been whitewashed and then roughly sanded down exudes a sandy-coloured calm, like a Saharan landscape. Over there, a piece gives off an urban, industrial, masculine vibe, with whorls of tan and brown cross-streaked with black grooves. If not for the sense of strength common to both pieces, you might not realize they had come from the same species.

Mango wood deserves our admiration for this pliability. It's one of those materials that shows its value in its willingness to take on a new shape in the craftsperson's hands. Think of gold, which derives part of its value from being the most ductile substance on Earth, capable of being pounded to microscopic flatness.

Or consider Chardonnay, which winemakers vinify in dramatically different ways, resulting in cousins whose family resemblance can be hard to discern. A buttery, oaky California Chardonnay brims with sunny vanilla while its French relation, Chablis, washes over you like a cold Burgundian rainstorm redolent of citric acid and wet slate. Now think of the tangy starburst of a sip of Champagne — there's Chardonnay in a glass of bubbly, too.

Artemano appreciates that mango offers a similar range, and is making use of recent advances in furniture finishing technology to extend the wood's versatility even further. Mango wood can be shaped and stained to harmonize with a variety of domestic atmospheres, from airy lightness to moody gravitas. Whatever the home may call for, mango will step in and fill the role with its dignified weight.

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