Chris Fayland will listen to the wood.
That’s how the weekend woodworker will decide what to create from two large pieces of oak, preserved from the Bienville Square trees damaged by Hurricane Sally.
“I’m thinking about making two entry tables,” he said. “Whatever the wood talks to me and tells me.”
Fayland, who has been practicing woodworking for the last seven to eight years, jumped at the chance last year to apply to use a piece or pieces of the trees to design his next creation. He chose two large, almost circular cuts his wife, Amy, said reminded her of hearts.
“We were excited to be picked to be part of this,” he said. “We’re super honored to be part of this.”
In all, more than 50 local artists applied to take home pieces of the roughly 100-year-old trees, said Lucy Gafford, executive director of the Mobile Arts Council. The only stipulation was that each had to agree to present their work at an exhibition at the Arts Council office downtown.
“Artists always try to find a silver lining when bad things happen,” she said.
Several Bienville trees were uprooted as Sally’s heavy rains and strong winds swept across downtown. At the time, Mayor Sandy Stimpson blamed the extensive damage to the square on three things: compaction, wind and lack of other foliage.
The city had help determining which trees needed to come down at the time from a 13-state regional Urban Forestry Strike Team. The group looked at the potential for the remaining trees to fall. The city also priced a service for squirrel removal at the park, but has yet to approve the expenditure.
The uprooted trees were eventually removed, but calls to Stimpson and Gafford never stopped. Stimpson said callers wanted to know what would happen to the trees. It was then, Stimpson said, urban forester Peter Toler came up with an idea. He would take the tree parts to his shop on Hurtel Street, allow the wood to dry out and then let artists come and pick out pieces they wanted to work with.
“This way they could come up with something to keep the memories of the trees living longer than they would if they’d been taken to a landfill,” Stimpson said.
Artist Fred Rettig said he’s already pictured what the wood he’s requested will look like. He wants to create a replica of the Bienville Square fountain. Rettig said the fountain will sit on some sort of vessel.
Rettig, who has worked with wood for 11 or 12 years, called it a “good opportunity” as long as the Arts Council allows for the artists showing their work to have a little time to let their creations dry out before displaying them. He said it can take oak months or even years to completely dry out.
Artists, he said, also like to “chase the grain.” That means they use the natural grain of the wood to enhance the beauty of their creations, Rettig said. With oak being more of a straight grain wood, Rettig said the artists’ works will really have to shine on their own.
“It’s going to be about what you did with it,” Rettig said.
With the trees removed, the Downtown Park Conservancy will continue to look at plans to improve Bienville Square. Plans include replacing the fallen oak trees with other types of trees to improve the diversity of plant life in the park.
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