Owner of Metaplace Industries, Nick Wray, spent years dreaming of converting a fossilized tree into a fireplace. We sat down with Nick to learn more about how he made it happen and his inspiration behind the design.
Nick Wray is an artist, sculptor, and hobby geologist who says he wanted to create a design that represented the self-referential nature of our modern culture, which inspired the name of his company, Metaplace Industries. Nick’s design studio built the world’s first-ever intact petrified wood fireplace.
What exactly is a petrified wood fireplace? We’ll explain it in more detail below, but it’s essentially a fireplace made of wood that had been turned to fossil, thereby preventing it from burning.
Despite the artistic vision that went into creating his free-standing fireplace, called “Ascendance,” Nick doesn't fully consider himself an artist.
“I’m less of an artist and more of a logistical sculptor because the core component of my design was created by nature.”
Nick didn’t study fine arts in school either, but he’s always had a passion for design. “I studied computer science and economics in college, but whenever I had a chance I also took art history classes. I’ve always liked building things; I am an Eagle Scout and I’ve done various construction projects before.”
In addition to his interest in design, Nick has a fascination with geology that goes back to his childhood.
“My dad has a Ph.D. in geology and I grew up in Maine - a state that was formerly under a continental glacial ice sheet. I spent a lot of time outside with my dad where he would point out things like chatter marks, glacial erratics, and striations on rocks from where the glaciers moved over them. I’ve just always been fascinated by it.”
Nick says he got the idea to create Ascendance in 2016 and spent two years developing the concept before taking an exploratory trip to Indonesia to learn more about the petrified wood market in 2018.
“Petrified wood has unique properties, it doesn’t burn because it’s been turned into stone. In Indonesia, there’s a large agricultural industry so farmers will occasionally find these large pieces of petrified wood in their fields that have been pushed up through the soil over millions of years.”
This is how Nick found the material for Ascendance.
“The material that makes up Ascendance is over 22 million years old. It’s from the early Miocene Period. While it was alive it likely fell into a shallow pool of water and was then buried under approximately five feet of volcanic ash, which deoxygenated the tree and removed all the moisture. Then over millions of years, with lots of heat and pressure, the organic matter was replaced by minerals, turning it into stone.”
Nick explains that his vision for Ascendance was to capture a collision of antiquity and modernity through contrast. Ascendance is meant to capture the feeling of a tree being struck by lightning and burning from inside.
Ascendance is nine feet tall and nearly 8,000 pounds, so the biggest challenge Nick faced was moving it from Java, Indonesia to the U.S.
“It took months of coordinating with a distributor for all the material to be exported to New York. Even once it was here, because it’s so big actually moving it around is a challenge.”
While Nick dealt with the complicated logistics of moving Ascendance, he was easily able to get the commercial insurance he needed thanks to CoverWallet.
“I needed commercial insurance in order to store it in a warehouse, but when I called my family’s insurance provider they didn’t understand my small business so they wouldn’t cover me. When I called CoverWallet they were able to easily understand everything I needed. The whole process was so simple.”
This past summer Nick displayed Ascendance at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York City and tells us people’s first impressions never disappoint.
“Sometimes there’s a bit of a learning curve, describing the fireplace and process, but people are always impressed by it. It’s designed to be a statement piece and people love that it’s a walking paradox. A fireplace made out of wood, it’s very self-referential.”
When Nick sells Ascendance, he plans to give a percentage of the profits back to the community where it came from.
“Indonesia has one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, but there’s also a lot of wealth disparity; a lot of people get left behind. It’s also an area prone to a lot of natural disasters, there was actually an earthquake and tsunami after I left. The people there are so incredible so it felt like the right thing to do.”
Nick is already thinking about the future and pulling more inspiration from nature for his next projects. “I want to create a cast of a South African termite mound and make it into a fireplace. These termites create these hyper unique, blade-shaped mounds which can be up to 12 feet tall, and they actually have magnetic resonance so the mounds are always constructed North to South.”