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Tree diplomat: going for the green.


A contemporary Johnny Appleseed, the head of Ron Fisher's American Furniture has been honored for his "outstanding contribution to the environment." Ron Fisher, a Marshalltown, Iowa-based furniture designer and manufacturer, is giving away money -- not capriciously, mind you, but to fulfill his goal of planting a quarter of a million trees by 1993. You can be sure that Fisher, owner of Ron Fisher's American Furniture, is not passing out dollar bills, planning to push a spade into the rich Iowa soil 250,000 times or place each seedling himself. What he has done is to become an ambassador for Global ReLeaf, a program of the American Forestry Assn., whose aim is to have 100 million trees planted in the next two years.

Global ReLeaf is one of the fastest growing environmental movements in the world. Individuals, groups, companies and local, state and federal governmental agencies participate by volunteering talent, time, trees, land, and/or the physical effort required to get trees planted and cared for or to encourage other groups to volunteer talent, time, trees, etc.

The program is based on monetary donations, land made available by local and state governments, matching funds from businesses and state and federal grants, tied in with other public and private contributions.

As the first American furniture manufacturer to become involved in Global ReLeaf, Fisher was one of 250 corporate and environmental leaders invited by President Bush to Washington, D.C., in November. Richard Hollier, AFA president, and Clayton Yeutter, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, presented Fisher an award for his "outstanding contribution to the environment."

Like weather, everyone talks about planting trees. A number of companies in the woodworking industry replant their own forests, and/or distribute seedlings to employees or to customers. Fisher's impetus, however, is not to plant trees that will be used to build furniture, but for the environmental benefits, which are enormous. According to AFA:

* Trees restore natural ecosystems.

* Growing forests use up carbon dioxide from the air at a rate of 2.5 tons per year per acre, which helps reduce the buildup of "greenhouse gas," and produce life-giving oxygen.

* Trees filter air pollutants, prevent soil erosion and provide wildlife habitat.

* Well-placed shade trees can cut home air-conditioning energy needs by 10 to 50 percent.

|A win-win situation'

What Fisher as catalyst/coordinator does so well is to contact other AFA members, foundations and agencies for assistance in working out the best system for planting those trees -- i.e., to get the most for the dollar, or as Fisher says, "the most bang for the buck." The more people he talks to, the more people want to participate, Fisher said. "It's a win-win situation."

"Environmental groups all over the country are hungry for trees," he added. "They are just waiting for someone to make trees available. I've already had contacts with state and city agencies in Minnesota, Wisconsin, California and South Dakota, who would put in the program if I choose to plant outside of Iowa."

Currently, he is working with the Marshall county conservation director and the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation to locate the land in Iowa for his seedlings. Fisher's quarter of a million trees will become a forest designed for public use.

Fisher's involvement began a few months ago after he read a magazine item about a company designating proceeds from its products for Global ReLeaf tree planting. "I thought, |What a great way to set us apart,"' Fisher said. "Most furniture companies look for attention by bringing out a new product or adding new features or new colors to an existing line," he added. "This is outside the realm of furniture. Starting Jan. 1, we guarantee we will plant a tree for every proof of purchase returned to us from our furniture.

"I have guaranteed a minimum of $15,000. It could be a lot more. If there is no response -- no proofs of purchase -- the trees will be planted anyway," Fisher emphasized. The State Forestry Commission said it could plant 78,000 trees with Fisher's contribution. Now, the Iowa Development Commission is getting involved and there could be match funding from the federal government, he said. "It may not be directly from proofs of purchase, but we will get to 250,000 trees," Fisher stated. "We've set a goal and we will achieve it."

From duck carving to High Point

America's heartland is the locale of Ron Fisher's American Furniture, a 50-person shop where concern for people and the environment also is demonstrated by the use of only waterborne finishes and the development of non-toxic, environmentally-safe products for furniture care.

Before he began to design and manufacture furniture, Fisher was a professional artist. He spent several years sculpting and carving, selling his wares at art shows. The '70's gas crunch put a crimp in his travelling, and he started Custom Woodcarving Inc. in 1979, producing collectible duck decoys. His company became one of the largest duck carving companies in the United States, placing him in a position to buy a struggling New Mexico company and take over its primitive furniture line. Within a year, the company began to manufacture Fisher's own furniture designs.

Ron Fisher's American Furniture came to High Point in April 1990. In October, the Neomission line was introduced, with "phenomenal response," according to Fisher. It is unpretentious furniture that would add a friendly note to any room setting.

A lighter look

The line takes off from Mission oak furniture of the early 1900s as it might have evolved had it been manufactured and reviewed continuously through the century, he said. Fisher's version -- in ponderosa pine -- is pared down -- slimmer, more graceful. Where original Mission furniture stood solidly on straight, square legs, Neomission pieces have splayed, slender legs. Keeping the handcrafted look that is characteristic of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, Fisher has reworked proportions to his liking, then lightened the appearance with painted finishes.

In fact, one of his prime considerations is color, he said. "Color or the combination of colors can make or break one's impression of a piece of furniture, regardless of its shape or details." Fisher's uses about 30 custom water-based shades and three finishes and will create custom colors from wallpaper or fabric samples.

For other lines, Fisher has freely drawn details from other eras and regions. A large chest has the graduated drawer sizes typical of Shaker furniture. A small end table is a reproduction of a play table used by President Lincoln's children. A ladderback arm chair was adapted from an early 18th century design, a stepback cupboard from a Welsh dish dresser. Other pieces include: an English country cottage bed, a French country dining table, an early 1800s pencil post bed, Pioneer Americana farm tables and a Federal-style bookcase. Fifteen percent of his business is one-of-a-kind pieces.

Each piece of furniture is handcrafted and finished to look as though it were a family heirloom, with characteristic signs of aging such as shrinking, separations, cracking and surface imperfections.

Fisher said, "We're talking about furniture that people like to live with and will pass on."

PHOTO : His NeoMission bed is the favorite piece of furniture designer Ron Fisher, inset. "The headboard is a great place to set a cup of coffee while reading in bed," he said.

PHOTO : Custom colors and designs, like the morning glory vine at right, are created by Ron Fisher's artists.

PHOTO : Fisher says the inverted pin router has eliminated the need for special equipment.

PHOTO : Mission-inspired tables feature pickled pine on the plant table, antique white and robin's egg blue on the magazine table and white crackle top on the lamp table.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Vance Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related article; environmental policy of furniture manufacturer
Author:Garet, Barbara
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Jan 1, 1991
Previous Article:Exploring new frontiers in finishing.
Next Article:Macassar ebony.

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