How to Upholster a Tree Stump

Introduction/ Inspiration

The STUMP project began in 1999 on the sidewalks of New York City — the sidewalk plots where there are tree stumps are generally neglected spaces left to collect debris. The tree stumps reminded me of the childhood story, The Giving Tree by Shell Silverstein, in which a tree has given of herself to the point of being diminished to a stump, but selflessly perks herself up to give to the last, by providing a seat for the beloved boy who is now an aged man. To upholster the sidewalk stump was a way to honor that which had been diminished, and bring it back into relationship with the neighborhood. I am interested by what happens in a public space when I demonstrate care for something which is not “mine”. I am still motivated to respond to the world in this way and am frequently nursing sick street dogs. To kneel down to the disparaged has been a tremendous opportunity for opening the heart. And it addresses the displaced and reductive state of our relationship to nature in an urban environment, or any so called civilized society. Wherever upholstering a tree stump is sited, it speaks to our relationship with what has been cast off and it is an activation and sublimation of dejected forms and neglected spaces.

Why should you upholster a tree stump?

In cities frequently there are stumps along the sidewalks, trees that have been cut down due to disease or vehicular damage, or nearby development. Once you begin looking I think you will find them ubiquitous, in city or countryside. And once a tree stump is upholstered, stump awareness begins to flourish. This is why I need your help, there are too many tree stumps for me to upholster single handedly. I would love to collect documentation of your work so as to compile a website of upholstered stumps from all corners of the globe. This really began as unauthorized public art, and is not intended as something to have, but rather as a gesture to give. The street stumps are anchored and framed with firm roots and city masonry as they are, and what we do is contribute, care, and dignify that which has been diminished thus giving vitality again to spaces usually below the pedestrian radar. Working in the urban areas is quite easy because these small sidewalk plots, where the tree stumps are found, have an ambiguous jurisdiction and allow for engaged activity without provoking upset, only occasional curiosity. I tend to act spontaneously and from a perspective that where something is obviously blighted, one shouldn’t have to ask permission to care, nor sponsorship to make and exhibit art. So it’s best to work in places that its quite obvious that no one is taking responsibility for the care of the space or tree stump. Engaging to care for something in public space is a radical gesture indeed; it changes our measurement of responsibility into simply, the ability to respond.

Step-by-Step Instructions

1. First locate a tree stump in your neighborhood. Look low and around, they will appear. Measure the piece to be upholstered by taking a rubbing – laying paper over the top of the stump and rubbing a dark color crayon around it edges to get a proper outline of the shape; this will be the working pattern.

2. Do most of the preparation at home so as to arrive prepared at the site in order to make the piece in one sitting. Application on site can take from a half hour to two hours depending on the size of the piece and how many conversations you get involved in with onlookers. That it is work that doesn’t define itself as art expands the implications and possibilities of its purpose.

3. Cut out the pattern and place over the foam, mark 1/2 inch around the circumference of the pattern for the foam piece. Cut with scissors or foam cutting blade. If I use batting instead of foam often I will stack two pieces, as it lacks the density of foam.

4. Lay the pattern face down on the backside of the vinyl and give a generous border around the pattern of 2 –3 inches; this will be cut away after it has been attached to the stump. For more flexibility when stretching the vinyl, I make a 1/2” zig zag edge.

5. Cut the length of gimp generously and prepare the gimp by applying rubber cement to the back and letting it dry, this will adhere on site when applied to another surface with rubber cement, as it is a contact cement.

6. Bring all tools and materials to the site and begin by laying the cut out foam over the surface of the stump you want to cushion.

7. Lay the vinyl evenly on top and using the staple gun, cautiously, tack the vinyl into place from north to south then east to west, tacking only one or two staples at each pole and pulling the vinyl taught before each staple is added. Staples should enter the wood parallel to the seat and remain consistently 1/2” down from the flat cut surface of the stump or just under the foam where it fold over the side.

8. Now there are four points holding the vinyl evenly in place. To get a smooth taught surface, work as you would to stretch a canvas. Staple the vinyl into place by working in quadrants. After completing one quadrant, move to its opposite, stapling in the same direction within each quadrant. Try to keep the line of staples evenly 1/2 inch down from the edge. Where there are errors you can remove staples with needle nose pliers or screwdriver. Once it looks even and desirable, hammer in the staples that might be raised from the surface.

9. Now cut the vinyl and padding as close to the staples as you can and apply rubber cement over the stapled edge in a 1/2” border, and let dry.

10. Adhere the gimp/ribbon to this edge, overlapping the last inch of gimp. Now the trimming is held into place and can be finished with upholstery tacks. The gimp usually has a pattern you can use as a guide for spacing the tacks evenly.

11. Space and hammer the tacks into place and the upholstered stump is finished.


The STUMP Project is being used to activate spaces that have been under neglect. It is a way of participating with what is signified in a tree stump, a beloved life form that has been diminished. Upholstering stumps is a gesture of caring and a posture of respect toward what is beneath our feet. This project has much larger ramifications and begins a dialogue. Where jurisdiction is ambiguous, and responsibility obviously shrugged - there lies an opportunity for an art intervention. I don’t believe one's impetus to care should be censored for lack of permissions.

This is motivated by a personal wish to exhibit care in a public space by honoring that which has been blighted or neglected. An Upholstered tree stump engages the community around the work with visual provocation. It also encourages dialogue and between artists -which manifests in other gestures in response around the neighborhood. Your contribution, participation in this project would be beautiful and part of its development. I would love if people doing this anywhere would document their work and send me a picture for use on a forthcoming website on the Stump Project.

Madelon Galland is an artist currently living in India.


You'll Need

1. Tree stump- found easily in most neighborhoods
2. Pattern – crayon rubbing on paper to trace outline of stump
3. Vinyl - with some stretch for fitting and for longevity outdoors
4. Gimp – an upholstery trimming for a finished look
5. Foam or Batting – to cushion (at least 1 1/2" of padding)
6. Marker, crayon or tailors chalk
7. Scissors
8. Upholstery tacks
9. Heavy duty staple gun
10. 12mm staples
11. Small hammer
12. Screw Driver- flat head for removing problematic staples
13. Needle nose pliers- for removing even more problematic staples
14. Rubber cement- for adhering gimp to vinyl before tacking
15. Garbage bag for cleanup
16. Camera- please send photo of completed Stump to me (I hope to make a website specifically for the stumps and to post contributors works from around the country)-madelongalland AT

To see more of Madelon Galland's work go to

Madelon is a contributor to the new SuperNaturale book Craftivity.

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