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The Art of Craft By Lilli Trompke

If a tree falls in a forest, but no one is there to hear it, don’t worry: OVS woodshop teacher Ryan Lang will be there to mill it.

Earlier this school year, the peaceful afternoon at the Ojai Valley School Upper Campus was disrupted by the roar of Mr. Lang’s bright orange tree mill as he offered students the opportunity to watch him use the machine and even operate it themselves for a project he was working on for the Ojai Valley Inn.

Having been passionate about working with wood since he was 18, he combined that part of his life with his career and became the woodshop teacher for the OVS Lower Campus nine years ago. He also has launched his own sustainable milling and furniture-making business, which last year caught the eye of the Ojai Valley Inn.

The Inn is in the process of creating a new event venue -- called The Farmhouse -- at their west Ojai property, and asked Mr. Lang to create a table and benches for the building using trees that had been removed to make way for the project.

When completed later this year, The Farmhouse is expected to draw crowds from all over to its halls, courtyards, terraces, and many more accommodations, opening a new chapter of hospitality for the world-famous hotel.

“The landscape architect had the idea to utilize the redwood from the site to use as artwork in the form of a table,” said Heather Dillon, director of public relations for the Ojai Valley Inn. “Ryan is incredibly talented and we thought it would be a great fit to pair a local craftsman for this project.”

Mr. Lang was elated to be chosen by the Inn and dove headlong into the project. But then the Thomas Fire hit.

Trees removed for that project had been hauled to the Upper Campus by Mr. Lang to be milled. And Mr. Lang had stored his mill -- a giant, beast of a machine known as the Woodmizer LT15 -- at one of the lower lots on campus.

the Woodmizer LT15 - Photo by Lilli Trompke

So when fire swept across the valley in early December of 2017 and destroyed parts of the OVS Upper Campus, Mr. Lang was understandably worried that the trees for the project, and his beloved and expensive tree mill, had been destroyed too.

“I was told by firemen that were at Upper that everything in the lower lot was torched,” Mr. Lang said. “When I parked, [a guard] was about to ask what I was doing there, but I saw that the mill and my container were still intact and just let out the largest happy yell that I could because the mill had miraculously survived.”

The trees stored next to the machine had been scorched. But fortunately, while the outsides of the trees were blackened, the insides were pristine and completely usable. The Ojai Valley Inn loved the story behind the wood and gave Mr. Lang the green light to continue.

And that’s how Upper Campus students came to be involved, helping on a fall afternoon to operate the mill -- imagine a giant bread slicer that can shave off thick slabs of wood from a tree trunk -- to produce long wood planks.

“It was fun and I really liked it,” said OVS junior Thomas Christopher, one of a handful of students who helped with the milling process. “It felt like good honest work.”

Juniors Tyler Davis and Thomas Christopher, Senior Rex Lang-Schroeder, and Sophomore Aydan Jennings carrying a freshly cut wood slab while helping Mr. Lang - Photo by Lilli Trompke

Having worked on the project for more than a year, Mr. Lang’s part is now done.

From the wood retrieved from the Ojai Valley Inn, he has completed two beautiful, 10-foot long block benches and a stunning 16-foot table, three feet wide and 12 inches thick. Both the benches and table are inlaid with a metal tree image, and the table’s surface is laser etched with the story of the trees, the fire and table construction.

Though it might be a long and painstaking process, Mr. Lang is more passionate than ever about this form of craftsmanship.

“My favorite thing about working with wood is the fact that you never know what the inside will look like,” he said. “It is like opening up a book that has never been read.”

Mr. Lang and his finished product - Photo by Lilli Trompke

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