Students turn fallen campus trees into public tables


Storm-damaged trees and others from across the University of Michigan are being turned into new, functional furniture on campus.

Students in Joseph Trumpey’s Tree to Table class, along with students from the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design and the Program in the Environment, are milling logs and working with wood taken from trees on campus.

The trees include the legendary Tappan Oak, which had become decayed and was removed from its location near Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library in 2021 for safety reasons. The students are also working with cherry logs from Nichols Arboretum that fell during a July 2023 windstorm.

Trumpey is an associate professor of art at the Stamps School, associate professor of natural resources in the School for Environment and Sustainability; and associate professor of Program in the Environment, run jointly by SEAS and LSA. He has worked on developing the Tree to Table course for several years and has more plans for this interdisciplinary, interactive experience in the future.

Photo of associate professor Joseph Trumpey (far left) and students in his Tree to Table class posing with one of their projects, a conference table.
Associate professor Joseph Trumpey (far left) and his students pose with one of their projects, a conference table. (Photo by Jen Hogan, Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design)

​“Our broader community consumes an overabundance of disposable, plastic, fast fashion and fast furniture. These are objects that we know little or nothing about. We know little about their sourcing, materials, or labor practices, Trumpey said. “This class asks students to see those goods, understand how many are not sustainable, and work to design and build better goods.

“This creates beauty because they use local waste, student labor, student designs, non-toxic materials, and all in partnership with departments  —  this year, MBGNA (the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum), SEAS and Stamps.”

In the course, students learn about tree biology  —  what is wood, how wood behaves, how trees grow, and a brief history of Michigan forests. They also meet with campus grounds and MBGNA staff to understand campus trees.

The students researched sustainable forestry and proposed processes for a sustainable studio practice that uses wood. Many students have little or no experience with tools, so much time is focused on building skills. The students traveled to Trumpey’s farm, where they milled the wood to prepare it for construction.

The various pieces they are constructing will be placed at locations on U-M’s campus, including the Art & Architecture Building on North Campus, where the Stamps School is located.

In a proposal for the Stamps School, students Suha Asadulla, Audrey Tang, Creak Shi, Jocelyn Fradette, Youjin Kim and Natasha Leavitt proposed creating a coffee table and conference table for a new meeting space located within the Stamps dean’s office.

In describing the project, they wrote: “The conference table will feature an elegant oval top crafted from cherry wood, complemented by a sophisticated apron and stretcher design for the legs. This table is designed to accommodate six people, making it ideal for meetings comfortably.

“On the other hand, the coffee table, exuding a rustic charm, will be constructed from a red oak ‘cookie’ and supported by three sturdy stakes. It will boast raw edges and a simplistic, staked design, adding a touch of simplicity and natural beauty to the space.”

Trumpey estimated the students will finish the project by the end of the semester, and the furniture will be placed around campus this spring. Each table will have a QR code engraved on the top that will link to a website chronicling the full story of each table, from the history of the tree to the final campus location and information about the student team that created it.

Trumpey’s creative practice focuses on understanding local, sustainable materials. As he looks to the future of sustainable art practices at U‑M, he views campus partnerships as a way to foster a larger focus on the importance of repurposing trees across the university in the future.

“I have partnered with Grounds and Campus Forestry for years. Our campus forester is a former student,” Trumpey said. ​“Lumber was created for the strawbale buildings at UMBS (the U-M Biological Station) and the Campus Farm. Stamps Dye Garden and for the Campus Farm’s Mobile Farm stand.

“We are using dead, dying trees or trees that had to be removed for development. I have partnered with Grounds and Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum to write a grant for a campus-based sawmill to be located on North Campus. I hope this will be funded and open many new opportunities for sustainable wood products coming from campus and serving our campus.”



  1. Steven Worden
    on April 16, 2024 at 8:09 am

    Excellent use of a learning opportunity as well as local, sustainable resources. I have told people complaining about removal of trees on campus that they are not just going to waste, but become assets for the University.

  2. Susan Booth
    on April 16, 2024 at 12:17 pm

    This is really great!!! The QR code is a very cool idea. Can’t wait to find one of these benches around campus at some point. I only hope ear and eye protection is being encouraged –

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