St. Francis rises in Ashland

St. Francis tree carving.

St. Francis rises in Ashland

An uplifting story!
Huge Douglas fir tree becomes art.
Corner of Henry and Liberty Streets.
Gary Spallino, chainsaw artist.
Neighborhood art series.

“This sculpture is special because it is anchored in the earth.”

Bob Fischer

“Uplifting story” email message in my inbox

I received this message from Ashland tree lover Bryan Holley the morning of April 29, 2022.

“Hey, Peter,
Something happened in our neighborhood that is an uplifting story. The chainsaw man has turned a tall stump into a beautiful statue of St. Francis of Assisi, or at least, some kind of man of the cloth. Check it out — it seemed like a perfect Peter Finkle addition to your great website.”

Later in the day, I sent this response to Bryan: “Thanks for the tip. I just walked there and spoke with Gary, the chainsaw master. After he completes the sculpture, I will take more photos and then share them.”

As promised, here are photos and stories of another wonderful piece of neighborhood art, enriching the life of each person who walks in this neighborhood. You can see it for yourself in a back yard at the corner of Henry Street and Liberty Street. It is tall enough to be visible over the fence from the sidewalk, though from this view you will see only the side and back of the sculpture. Read on to see photos of the entire carving, including details of the face.

The story begins with

The story begins with a large 85-foot tall Douglas fir tree. It was over 100 years old, much older than the current house it grew next to. Beetles or disease ended the big tree’s life. When the homeowners had the dead tree removed, they chose to leave a ten foot high stump. 

St. Francis tree stump before carving.
Douglas Fir tree stump at Bob Fischer and Claudia DeBruyn’s house before carving.
(photo by Bob Fischer or Claudia DeBruyn)

St. Francis inspires both

I spoke with the couple who commissioned Gary Spillano to carve St. Francis in their yard. Bob Fischer and Claudia DeBruyn made me laugh as they bantered about deciding what to carve out of the huge stump. Bob’s initial thoughts led to his suggestions of “a dolphin or an elf house.” Claudia was mortified – “NO!” to both.

A few days later, Bob was still pondering what to carve when he noticed with fresh eyes a four-foot high St. Francis statue in a niche of their stairwell. Bob had purchased it about 20 years ago and it was dear to him.

That led him to remember the small St. Francis statue that Claudia has brought along with her through all of the twists and turns of her life for the past 50 years! Her St. Francis currently has a home in the garden of their house.

St. Francis statue.
Claudia DeBruyn’s small St. Francis in her garden. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2022)

You won’t be surprised to learn that when Bob suggested carving a St. Francis from the tree stump, “her eyes lit up” and he got an enthusiastic “YES!” 

Gary Spillano Chainsaw Art enters the story

This is exactly the kind of challenge Gary Spillano likes to take on. He has years of experience doing both large and small chainsaw art projects. Here are three photos that show the range of his work.

Gary Spallino chainsaw art - bears.
Bears carved by Gary Spallino. (photo from his Facebook page)
Gary Spallino chainsaw art - horse head.
Horse head carved by Gary Spallino. (from his website)
Gary Spallino chainsaw art - Tree Spirit.
“Tree Spirit” carved by Gary Spallino. (from his website)

Carving St. Francis

According to Bob, Gary looked at his statue of St. Francis and held an image of the sculpture in his mind as he started cutting into the tree stump. The carving was a multi-day process. Here are photos provided by Bob and Claudia that show Gary’s work, step by step.

St. Francis tree stump before carving.
Gary Spallino at work removing the top of the stump before he began carving the St. Francis statue. (photo by Bob Fischer or Claudia DeBruyn, 2022)
St. Francis tree carving.
Here is St. Francis early in the carving process. (photo by Bob Fischer or Claudia DeBruyn)
St. Francis tree carving.
Early in the process of carving the St. Francis statue. (photo by Bob Fischer or Claudia DeBruyn, 2022)
St. Francis tree carving.
The St. Francis tree carving work area. (photo by Bob Fischer or Claudia DeBruyn, 2022)
Gary Spallino carving the details into his St. Francis statue.
(photo by Bob Fischer or Claudia DeBruyn, 2022)
St. Francis tree carving.
Here is Gary Spallino with his completed St. Francis carving.
(photo by Bob Fischer or Claudia DeBruyn, 2022)

The completed artwork

I am impressed by the combination of solidity and tenderness expressed in this tree trunk carving. See what you think.

St. Francis tree carving.
The finished St. Francis carving is “anchored in the earth,” as Bob described it. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2022)
St. Francis tree carving.
Here is the finished St. Francis carving, showing a nearby Cedar tree in the yard. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2022)

Praise from neighbors walking by

Claudia told me, “At least a dozen people who walked by have said to us, something like: ‘Thank you for doing this. This is a gift not just to yourself, but to the whole neighborhood.’”

Last words go to Leonard Cohen

St. Francis tree carving.
You can clearly see the cracks in this St. Francis photo. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2022)

Cracks are visible in the face and body of the finished sculpture. Bob and Claudia talked with one of their neighbors about this “problem.” Should the cracks be filled in? Or should they be left natural? The neighbor counseled them to leave the cracks and let the tree carving age naturally.

But it wasn’t really the neighbor who made the decision for Bob and Claudia. It was the late singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. Yes, the artist now famous for the song Hallelujah, which has become a standard for our times. 

Bob and Claudia have loved Leonard Cohen’s songs for decades. Thinking about the cracks in their St. Francis brought to mind these lyrics from his song Anthem – and the decision was suddenly perfectly clear.

“Ring the bells that still can ring.

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack, a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.”

Leonard Cohen

For more Neighborhood Art stories, here are links to two more photo essays:

No Comments

Post A Comment