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HPU Junior Hannah Le Makes Functional Art from Tree Bark

Updated: Feb 22, 2023

On a Friday afternoon, you can find High Point University junior Hannah Le in the Tech Lab, using natural materials like tree bark to create wild, nature-inspired surfaces for interior products like chairs and curtains.

Last time I checked in with Hannah, a Visual Merchandising Design major in HPU's School of Art and Design, she sent me this picture of a stepstool she had made:

When I first saw her creation, I scrunched my face and treated myself to a very close look at it. I thought it would have a fitting place among the sculptures in a modern art museum, maybe as one rock standing apart in a belt of asteroids splayed out on the floor; or as a chunk of Rosetta Stone with the language scratched out; or as that misshapen chunk of tree stump that makes you ask existential questions about the trunk-that-used-to-be.

As it turned out, my reaction was exactly what Hannah was aiming for.

In her words, "what makes [the stool] unique is that if it were sitting in a living room, it would just look like a sculptural piece. The abstractness of the shape itself does not look like it would be balanced enough for someone to stand on it safely, but the idea that it is perceived as simply a piece of art when it actually has a useful purpose, is what makes it exactly what I wanted it to be: a functional piece of art."

Hannah's art-meets-function creations have a fascinating origin story. They began with a question: What is the potential for the sense of touch to influence a person's experience with interior products?

Since every student at High Point works closely with a faculty mentor, Hannah's first stop was to ask Dr. Brown what the best way would be to go about her exploration. Dr. Brown pointed Hannah toward HPU's Tech Lab. There, under the mentorship of School of Art and Design instructors Ms. Katy Brandt and Mr. Adrian Boggs, Hannah learned to sketch, model, and cast materials like alginate and resin. She used the Tech Lab's laser cutter, 3D printer, and other tools to investigate the abstract texture of tree bark and the contrasting straight edges of geometric designs. Her primary process became to pour alginate onto a tree bark cast to harden, then to remove it and use the uniquely bark-textured model as a new cast onto which she would pour resin.

Her form exploration led her to create some remarkable nature-inspired surfaces:

When she was ready, she began to design a creation to show the potential of cast-negative forms of textures available from bark species. This would eventually become the stool she showed me.

First, she experimented with a cardboard model to form a shape:

Then, she created a scale model in CAD and laser-cut it out of acrylic so it would resemble resin:

After that, it wasn't long before she had her stool!

Now Hannah says her next step is to experiment even more with unique surfaces and to actually apply them to a wide variety of interior products.

When she told me that, I started to wonder if (after she graduates in 2020) I'll be able to special-order a set of mossy green curtains to match my, perhaps, cave-wall wallpaper.

Hannah Le, High Point University c/o 2020

Hannah describes her purpose as a designer as "capturing a sensory moment of time in nature." Thanks in no small part to the support of High Point University and its School of Art and Design, she is accomplishing her goals one small, asteroid-shaped stool at a time.

You can find Hannah Le on LinkedIn and follow her hand-painted decor business Your Decor HQ on Instagram.

Want to find the perfect college to achieve your goals -- artistic or otherwise? Download my completely free College Research Guide to get a leg up in the college search process:

Robert Powers (M.A. Johns Hopkins) is the college counselor at College Torch. He is an expert in colleges and the college admissions process. You can reach him by emailing Parents are able to join his private Facebook group for Parents of College-Bound Students.

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