The Monticello Sugar Maple

This venerable Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum, was a perennial favorite at Monticello, especially in late October when its brilliant fall color became the subject of countless visitor photographs. Thomas Jefferson’s interest in cultivating this North American species was based on his vision for a domestic sugar industry that was inspired by a botanical journey with James Madison to New England in 1791. Jefferson’s month-long holiday coincided with problems in Caribbean cane sugar importation as well as his personal contacts with abolitionist proponents of an American sugar economy. He wrote, “I have never seen a reason why every farmer should not have a sugar orchard, as well as an apple orchard….what a blessing to substitute a sugar which requires only the labour of children, for that which it is said renders the slavery of the blacks necessary.” Jefferson purchased large quantities of Sugar Maple seed and young saplings from the William Prince Nursery on Long Island, New York, and planted them in his Monticello nursery. The Sugar Maple that fell during a violent storm on April 26, 2011 was not an original tree, but was likely planted during the Levy Era. Photographs of Monticello taken at the turn of the twentieth-century show this young tree on the southeast front of Monticello, dating it to the late 1800s.                 Peggy Cornett, 2011

This photo shows the sugar maple in the foreground, with the original tulip poplar partially hidden behind it, and the linden to the right of the sidewalk back beside the house.


After the storm this is what it looked like.

We were able to get to the base of the tree just before the stump grinder came.  You can see how hollow it was at ground level.

But most of the logs themselves were quite sound, and extremely heavy.  

In this shot you can see that the main crotch section in the back had some dying branches. 

Here is the crotch beginning to be sectioned out.  You can see the wonderful figure and curl.

My last load out with the larger upper branches on a big trailer. 
This required the hydraulic power to load and unload.

The wood has been wonderful to work with, very sound and so rich in color and texture. Some of this will go to instrument building, as well as some extra fine pens and Christmas ornaments.

 I have always felt that my bowls essentially preserve a bit of the soul of a tree.  They are thin curved sections through the wood, often going from heart to bark, dried and polished smooth, and in the arcing surface you can read the history of the tree as well as see some of the stresses it might have undergone.   Once completely finished and put in a house, they can last forever

The Monticello Sugar Maple bowls are sold primarily by the Monticello Museum Shop.  There are several other turners working with the wood.  Each piece is numbered sequentially by the artist, documented by photograph, and is accompanied by a certification card from Monticello.   You may contact the Museum Shop  at 434-984-9840 or 1-800-243-1743 to check for availability if you are interested. 

For a bit of Jefferson's own thoughts on trees, go to the Monticello website