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Tree Table Creates Gathering Place

On the grounds of Atlanta History Center, a communal table provides a place for outdoor, socially-distant gathering.

The Tree Table within the new Entrance Gardens of Goizueta Gardens is a functional work of art extending 60 feet long and 30 feet wide.

The tree that gives the table its name was a 140-year-old white oak tree that once stood close to the parking deck on the Buckhead campus. Rather than simply remove the declining tree, Sarah Roberts, Olga C. de Goizueta Vice President of Goizueta Gardens and Living Collections, decided to preserve the lumber for later use as a table replicating the shape of the tree itself.

Atlanta History Center hired woodworker Kirk McAlpin III to take on the ambitious project.  This type of woodworking involves using the cross-section of the whole tree with the original edges intact.

“Making a live edge table is a discovery process. It’s not the easiest way to work with wood, so you have to make a lot of modifications.” He explains, discussing the process, “What kind of wood is this? What are the limitations of this piece of wood? What are the beautiful qualities I want to make sure to preserve during the work process? That’s ingrained into all the woodworking that I do.”

Although the table is a total of 60 feet in length, it is made up of sections ranging from six to eight feet long, each of which were crafted individually by McAlpin using handheld tools. The total process took seven months. 

The Tree Table installation began in February 2020, shortly before Atlanta History Center temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Though the table had been years in the making, nothing could prepare Atlanta History Center for how much of an asset the table would become. 

The landscape surrounding the table is inspired by the New Perennial Movement, designed to be ecologically conscious and hospitable to beneficial plants and pollinators.

Atlanta History Center reopened to the public with increased safety measures in June. The table continues to be popular despite the chillier weather, with guests frequently enjoying coffee or lunch along its many branches. Bees, butterflies, and birds hum in the area, all with a view of the glass-enclosed Rollins Gallery featuring the Texas locomotive and adjacent to the Lloyd and Mary Ann Whitaker Cyclorama building.

Contained in the Tree Table is 140 years of history—one that now has a new chapter as a community space amid a historic and difficult time.

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