I have to say that I hadn't considered working on natural materials in this way. Then I found (via Core77) an article out a wood product that is extremely flexible for stylistic applications. A blurb on how they do it:
The patented production technique involves steaming and then compressing hardwood along its length. This process concertinas the cell walls at microscopic level and rather like a bendy straw, allows the cell walls to straighten out again on the outside of a bend without getting into tension.
Click over to the gallery pages and take a look at some of the applications. Way cool.