ArtLex Art Dictionary




wood - A plant product, fibrous material found as the primary content of the stems of such "woody" plants as trees and shrubs. These perennial plants are characterized by stems and branches that grow outward year after year, and that are composed of cellulose held together with lignin (also called xylum tissue), which conducts sap upward from the roots to the leaves, stores food, and provides support.

Annual new growth results in the development of a ring of xylum added outside the rings produced in previous years, and these are observable in cross-section. In temperate regions, the light rings represent the rapid growth occuring each spring; the darker rings the slower growth in the rest of the year. The innermost wood in a tree's trunk is called the heartwood, while the outermost is the functional sapwood.

Because it provides such effective and efficient structural material for plants, wood has long proven useful to humans.

When cut down and dried, it is used for many purposes:

Wood that is broken down into fibers is called wood pulp, which can then be made into paper.

Wood can be cut (sawn), carved (chiseled, drilled, routered, turned, planed, filed, sanded, buffed and polished), joined (nailed, screwed, bolted, glued, etc.) by artists and craftsmen using special tools. This is called woodworking or carpentry. The majority of all wood is used in the construction of buildings. Extensions are cabinetry and furniture-making.

With more and more competing technologies, many of wood's traditional uses can be satisfied with cement, metal, and plastics.

Wood is commonly classified as either hardwood or softwood. The wood from conifers (e.g., firs and pines) is called softwood, and the wood from broad-leaved trees (e.g., oak, cherry, walnut, mahogany) is called hardwood. This classification can be misleading, because some hardwoods (e.g., balsa) are actually softer than most softwoods.

Woods from different types of trees have different colors and grain densities. Because of these differences, and the fact that some woods take longer to grow than others, wood from different kinds of trees have different qualities and market values.  For example, while  mahogany is a dark, dense hardwood which is excellent for fine furniture crafting, balsa is light, soft, and almost spongelike, making it useful for model building.

In the conifers the xylem is made up mainly of tracheids, thus presenting a uniform, nonporous appearance; their wood is called softwood. Deciduous trees have more complex xylem, permeated by vessels, and are called hardwoods, although the description is sometimes inaccurate.

The word "wood" has come to us from the old Anglo-Saxon wudu. [I'd believe it. Wudu?]



Woods (those most commonly used to make things) :

alder (Alnus)

apple (Malus)

ash (Fraxinus) - See American Colonial art, furniture, and laminate

aspen, quaking (Populus tremula, Populus tremuloides)

balsa (Ochroma pyramidale) See hardwood.

basswood (Tilia americana)

beech (Fagus)

birch - See cane and caning, furniture, and laminate, and shard

boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) - See crucifix.

brazilwood (Caesalpinia echinata)

butternut (Juglans cinerea)

catalpa (Catalpa)

cedar - See polychromy, Spanish art, totem and totem pole, and ushabtis.

cherry, black (Prunus serotina) - See collage, furniture, hardwood, horology, lintel, movement, pedestal, post, screen, sculpture, and sculpture garden.

chestnut (Castanea dentata) - See American Colonial art, mehndi, Kunstkabinett and Kunstkammer, and Post-Impressionism.

corkwood (Leitneria floridana) - See collage and shadow box.

cottonwood, eastern (Populus deltoides)

cypress, southern (Taxodium distichum) - See Heian period and van Gogh in Post-Impressionism.

driftwood - (Whatever washes up!) - See assemblage, Dada, and stain.

ebony - See Baroque, crucifix, Egyptian art, g-gl, Kunstkabinett and Kunstkammer, marquetry, ormolu, Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, veneer, and vessel.



fir (Abies) - See furniture and softwood.

fruitwood (See individual fruit trees: apple, cherry, pear, etc.)

ginko - See earth art.

hemlock (Tsuga)


hornbeam (Carpinus species)

ironwood, black (Rhamnidium ferreum) -See Pre-Columbian art.

jacarandá, Brazilian rosewood (Dalbergia nigra)

kingwood - See marquetry.

laurel, California (Umbellularia californica) - See numismatics, postmodernism, and Roman art.

lime - See Northern Renaissance.

linden - See earth art and Northern Renaissance.

mahogany - See American Colonial art, American Indian art, Art Nouveau, design, furniture, hardwood, horology, kaleidoscope, landscape, marquetry, model, pedestal, stain.

maple (Acer) - See arms & armor, design, fig leaf, furniture, horology, laminate, stain.

oak (Quercus) - See American Colonial art, Art Nouveau, Barbizon school, Baroque, be-bimeissonier, crucifix, enlargement, furniture, German art, grotesque, hardwood, landscape, mirror, misericord, nature, ormolu, Pre-Columbian art, reliquary, rush, Scottish art, sculpture, sphere, stain.

olive - See Fauvism, van Goh in landscape and Post-Impressionism, and marquetry.

pear (Pyrus communis) - See earth art.

pecan - See stain.

pine (Pinus) - See American Colonial art, Baroque, design, furniture, galvanized, Islamic art, marquetry, polychromy, portrait, sculpture, softwood, Spanish art, stain, stretcher.

poplar - See American Colonial art, furniture, mirror, sculpture, and tondo.

rosewood, Brazilian / Jacarandá (Dalbergia nigra) - See furniture, inlay, marquetry, and veneer.

sycamore, American (Platanus occidentalis) - See earth art, furniture, and marquetry.

teak (Tectona grandis) - See screen.

tulipwood - See furniture, marquetry, and veneer.

walnut (Juglans) - See American Colonial art, design, frame, furniture, Kunstkabinett and Kunstkammer, marquetry, sculpture, and stain.

willow, black (Salix nigra) - See sculpture and volute.

yew - See furniture and topiary.


Examples of art made of wood:



see thumbnail to rightEgypt, second century CE, Hawara, Roman Period, Funerary Portrait of a Young Girl, encaustic on wood, height 15 3/4 inches, Cleveland Museum of Art. See Fayum portraits and portrait.





see thumbnail to leftJapan, Pagoda at Horyu-ji Buddhist temple complex, c. 8th century, wood construction. See Japanese art and pagoda.




see thumbnail to rightAttributed to Egypt, Fatimid, Wood panel, 11th century, carved wood, 13 3/4 x 9 inches (34.93 x 22.9 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. See Islamic art and volute.




see thumbnail to leftChina, Tea bowl stand, Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279), brown lacquer on wood and fabric, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, CA.





see thumbnail to rightEnglish, Knight Fighting a Dragon, carved oak, one of the 35 misericords at the cathedral of St. Peter, Exeter, c. 1279. Three others are Branch Springing from a Dragon's Mouth, Doves with Strawberry Leaf Between Them, and the Locust of the Apocalypse.




see thumbnail to leftGiotto di Bondone (Italian, Florentine, 1266/76-1337), The Epiphany, possibly c. 1320, tempera on wood, gold ground, 17 3/4 x 17 1/4 inches (45.1 x 43.8 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. (On the Met's page, you can enlarge any detail.) See perspective.






see thumbnail to rightGermany, Ravensburg, probably Friedrich Schramm, c. 1480, Virgin Mary with the Protective Cloak, polychromed linden wood, height 135 cm, Bodemuseum, Berlin. See Madonna and Northern Renaissance.








see thumbnail to leftTilman Riemenschneider (German, c. 1460-1531), Madonna and Child, carved linden wood.






see thumbnail to rightGerard David (Netherlandish, born about 1455, died 1523), The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, c. 1512-15, oil on wood panel, 20 x 17 inches (50.8 x 43.2 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. The inclusion of a vignette of the Holy Family emerging from the forest allows this painting to provide a continuous narrative. See chiaroscuro, drapery, and Northern Renaissance.



Leonardo da Vinci (Italian, 1452-1519), Mona Lisa (La Joconde), c. 1503-1506, oil on wood panel, 77 x 53 cm, Louvre. Paintings in Europe during the Middle Ages were most often painted on wood panels or in stucco, and although Leonardo in reknowned as a great innovator, he was faithful to the wood panel tradition with few exceptions. This famous portrait is important for several reasons, including his use of sfumato. It seems to suggest that we are observing this face as its expression is changing. The picture also presents early examples of aerial perspective and landscape painting.




Although painters still paint on wood panels, from the time of the Renaissance, they have produced far more paintings on canvases mounted on see thumbnail to leftwooden stretchers.








see thumbnail to leftGerman, Floor, c. 1715-1720, pine, marquetry with kingwood, bois satiné, sycamore, tulipwood, and olive, 9 feet 11 inches x 10 feet 11 inches, Getty Museum, Malibu, CA. see thumbnail to rightDetail: c. 3 x 3 feet.





see thumbnail to leftJohn Broadwood and Son, piano designer (English, active 1795-1808), with cameos and medallions designed by Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795), case decoration by Thomas Sheraton (1751-1806), Grand Piano, 1796, veneered case of satinwood, tulipwood, and purpleheart with Wedgwood cameos and medallions; piano: 97 7/8 x 43 7/8 x 35 7/8 inches (248.7 x 111.5 x 91.2 cm), Wedgwood medallion: c. 3 inches across (7.6 cm), Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.





see thumbnail to rightNaito Toyomasa (Japanese), Netsuke, late 18th - mid-19th century, wood, 3.3 x 3.1 cm, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia. See netsuke.





see thumbnail to leftPage and Setchell Company (American), one of this company's seventeen styles of type, 1887, die-cut wood.




see thumbnail to rightAfrica, Zaïre, Yombe or Woyo, Fetish, wood, nails, metal fragments, small chain, traces of polychrome, 97.5 x 47 x 28 cm, Georges Pompidou Center, Paris. See fetish.




see thumbnail to leftCharles Rennie Mackintosh (Scottish, 1868-1928), designer, Hill House Chair, 1904, black lacquered wood with upholstered seat, 55 x 16 x 14 1/4 inches. See Arts and Crafts Movement and vertical.





see thumbnail to rightElie Nadelman (American, born Poland, 1882-1946), Dancer, c. 1918-1919, cherrywood, Jewish Museum, NY. See curvilinear, Jewish art, and sculpture.




see thumbnail to leftKarl Schmidt-Rottluff (German, 1884-1976), Male Head, 1917, wood, 34.3 x 13.3 x 16.5 cm, Tate Gallery, London.





see thumbnail to rightNew Guinea, Asmat people, on the island of Irian Jaya, between the Asewetsj and Siretsj rivers, Bis Poles, 20th century, mangrove wood, lime, charcoal, ochre, and fiber, height 10-18 feet (548.6 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. The Asmat used these poles in ritual feasts and to honor the dead at "bis" ceremonies. (pr. biss)




see thumbnail to leftLouise Nevelson (American, born Russia, 1899/1900-1988), Sky Cathedral, 1958, found wood assemblage sculpture, painted black, 115 x 135 x 20 inches, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, NY. See feminist art.





see thumbnail to rightLouise Nevelson, Royal Tide V, l961, found wood assemblage sculpture.




Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972), Celestial Navigation, n.d., shadow box construction with wood, glasses, marbles, plaster head, painted cork ball, metal rods, nails, paper collage, tempera, and painted glass, 9 5/8 x 16 1/4 x 4 inches (24.4. x 41.3 x 10.2 cm), Whitney Museum of American Art, NY. See sculpture and Surrealism.




see thumbnail to rightElizabeth Catlett (American, 1919-), Ife, 2002, carved mahogany, Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA.  See African American art and   nude.




see thumbnail to leftKarel Appel (Dutch, 1921-2006), Questioning Children (Vragende kinderen), 1948, relief: pieces of wood nailed onto a wooden panel, painted with oil, 85 x 56 cm, Georges Pompidou Center, Paris. See Cobra.




see thumbnail to rightDetails of three contemporary parquet floors, each about 4 x 5 feet.




see thumbnail to leftWilliam Hunter (American, contemporary), Autumn Flutes, 1982, lathe carved vinhatico, 2 1/8 x 10 9/16 x 10 9/16 inches, ASU Art Museum, Tempe, AZ.




see thumbnail to rightGeorg Baselitz (German, 1938-), Untitled, 1982-3, painted wood (lime), 250.0 x 73.0 x 59.0 cm, Tate Modern, London. Although Baselitz is considered a Neo-Expressionist, the rough surfaces of earlier German Expressionism can be seen in this partially chainsawed sculpture carved from a tree trunk.



see thumbnail to leftMartin Puryear (American, 1941-), Vault, 1984, wood, wire mesh, and tar, 66 x 97 x 48 inches, Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, CA. See African American art and Post-Minimalism.



see thumbnail to rightMartin Puryear, Lever No. 3, 1989, carved and painted wood, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.



Robert Gober (American, 1954-), Untitled, 1984, plaster, wood, wire lath, aluminum, watercolor, semi-gloss enamel paint, collection of the artist, NY.




see thumbnail to leftRobert Gober, X Playpen, 1987, wood construction.



see thumbnail to rightAndy Goldsworthy (English, 1956-), one of Two Oak Stacks, 2003, two large balls of stacked and knitted oak sticks, Storm King Art Center. This ball of sticks is (or was) directly outside the museum building, visible through the window of the gallery where the other identical ball of sticks was constructed and exhibited. See earth art, ephemera, and sphere.




see thumbnail to leftAndy Goldsworthy, Stone Houses, 2004, two monumental domes constructed of wood (split rails from New England agricultural sources) and stone (from Scotland), each 18 feet in height and 24 feet in diameter, Metropolitan Museum, NY. This installation is in the museum's Roof Garden, an outdoor space for sculpture with a great view of the city. The museum says the work was "inspired by Central Park and its architectural backdrop. Inherent in these seemingly simple forms are the implicit power, beauty, mystery, and elemental aspects of nature, marked by the passage of time and by human contact." See sculpture garden.




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Also see abrasive, acid, acid free, adobe, adze, assemblage sculpture, basketry, bonsai, butt joint, carving, charcoal, chisel, circular saw, crosscut saw, dowel, file, finish, frame, gouge, hacksaw, helix, hollow carving, Inlay, intarsia, join, kerf, leather, marquetry, maul, miter, mortise, nail, papermaking, parquetry, polyurethane, rasp, relief printing, resin, riffler, seasoning, spatula, spokeshave, stain, staple, stretcher, surform, tenon, turpentine, varnish, veneer, wood, woodcut, and wood engraving.



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