The historic 2006 Hanukkah Storm felled a Laurelhurst Atlas cedar so big it took three people holding hands to ring its trunk. The wind snapped off huge branches, leaving the lopsided survivors looming menacingly over the neighbor’s place.
Another neighbor had a lovely heron carved into a tree on her property. The owner of the stricken cedar decided to consult Stanley Rill, tree sculptor.
“I don’t like to see a tree cut down,” says Rill. “But, as in all things, sometimes a tree has to come to the end of its natural life.” The owner, inspired by a chance encounter with a statuette of a dragon entwining a tree at the Pike Place Market, asked Rill to turn the ruined cedar into a symbol of endurance on a large scale.
Rill took a picture of the cedar and sketched onto the photo how he proposed to sculpt the trunk. He regards the work as a three-way collaboration between himself, the tree’s owner and the natural setting. “I try to make my carving fit like it just perfectly belongs there,” he says.
Rill lives and works in a solitary studio far from Port Hadlock on the Olympic Peninsula, the nearest town. But he’s willing to come to the city when art calls. His inspiration: the woodcarving geniuses he witnessed as a child growing up in Africa. His training included college art classes, carpentry work and commissions to carve doors, signs and mantels, all leading to his tree-sculpting specialty.
The transmogrification was an epic process. Ballard Tree Service sent a ninety-foot crane, closed the street and removed twenty-eight hundred pounds of tree trunk. Twenty-five feet of trunk still remained.
The end result: a backyard that gets lots more sunlight than before and is guarded by an imposing dragon. Plus more firewood than anybody ever saw. The tree now draws a stream of visiting friends, horticulture and art lovers alike. “It is a way of honoring the tree,” says Rill, “and bringing creation and beauty from the damage of a mighty storm.”
Photography by Stanley Rill