Tree Spirit

When a client approaches me to create a tree stump sculpture, they sometimes know right away what form they want it to take. But more often than not, the decision is collaborative. This was the case for a recent sculpture on a private client’s property in Bellingham, WA.

It was important to them to preserve the tree’s unique character and also have a sculpture that fit with the landscape. When we were talking about options, I noticed a small mask hanging near the top of the tree.

This got me thinking.

The legend of tree spirits is found in many traditions, from ancient Greece, to Japan, to Scotland. In English folklore, they say if you see one of the tree spirits that lives in the forest, you’ll have a lifetime of fortune.

With branches that already looked like hair, this tree was calling out to be turned into a modern-day tree spirit. My clients loved the idea, so after finalizing the design, I set up scaffolding around the 15-foot tall Douglas Fir and got started.

First, I laid out the basic anatomy of a human face.

Then, to help make it look like it was part of a forest, I covered the tree spirit’s “skin” with leaves.The owls in the mouth were a nod to the idea that the tree spirit protects the nature around it. The owls had found refuge in his mouth.

My clients asked if I wanted to carve the tree branches to look like hair. But in the end we decided the natural branches looked so much like hair on their own, that changing them would take away from the effect. So I carved a moth in the form of a crown on his forehead, then transitioned it up to just the hint of hair extending into the branches.

And there you have it. A modern-day tree spirit. My clients were pleased and the story of the tree even got picked up by the Bellingham Herald (check out their video!) the Miami Herald and the Sacramento Bee.