Oak Harbor Arts Commission to propose plan for wood from felled Garry oak | Corrected

Doug Nuckols, lead park specialist with the city, is dwarfed by the giant trunk of the Garry oak tree that used to stand at the Oak Harbor Post Office. City officials. Residents are now trying to decide what to do with the wood.  - Photo by Jessie Stensland/Whidbey News-Times
Doug Nuckols, lead park specialist with the city, is dwarfed by the giant trunk of the Garry oak tree that used to stand at the Oak Harbor Post Office. City officials. Residents are now trying to decide what to do with the wood.
— image credit: Photo by Jessie Stensland/Whidbey News-Times

The wood from the post office oak tree should be turned into several, or perhaps many, works of art by wood carvers and others artists from the Whidbey community.

That was the general, albeit loose, consensus of the members of the Oak Harbor Arts Commission during its meeting Monday night.

The commission’s job is to make a recommendation to the City Council, but anything definitive is months away.

“A story pole is something I could get really excited about,” Arts Commissioner Nora O’Connell-Balda said, referring to a proposal to commission a totem-pole-type sculpture from the wood.

“I would like to see every last piece be used by local artists,” Commissioner Peggy Darst-Townsdin said.

More than a dozen people, many of them woodcarvers, attended the meeting to give their two cents about what should happen with the wood from the 330-year-old Garry oak, which the city cut down last month because of safety concerns.

Artist Joel Griffith, a lifelong Oak Harbor resident, said he regrets that the city has lost so many landmarks over time, but he proposed that the wood from the oak could be used to create new landmarks.

He suggested that an “art walk” could be created with pieces placed along Pioneer Way, for example, and leading to a large piece at the site of the oak stump.

Steve Backus, a South Whidbey chainsaw artist, said the city chose him to carve the tree 10 years ago, when officials first planned to cut the tree. He received a $4,000 down payment, but then officials decided the tree could be saved.

Backus said he’s still wants to do the project, but it will be different this time. The original plan was to leave the humongous trunk and carve it in place, but now it’s been chopped down.

He had proposed creating a design with an encapsulation of life on Whidbey — with such details as an eagle, jets, local scenes and the sea shore.

Oak Harbor resident Melissa Duffy, who’s been a guardian of the post office oak for the last decade, said it’s important to place something at the site of the tree to mark its legacy. She suggested the “story pole” made from the wood, which she said said could show the life cycle of the tree.

Downtown merchant Margaret Livermore stressed that the artists should be from the community, not some far away place.

Resident Ron Hancock said the community has a right to contribute ideas before decisions are made.

“It’s pretty obvious that the community is pretty frustrated about not having input,” he said, referring to the fact that the decision to cut the tree was kept secret from the community and even the members of the Arts Commission.

Over and over again, the members of the commission stressed that they have no power to make final decisions, but that they only forward recommendations to the City Council, which is the elected decision-making body.

Cac Kamak, senior planner with the city, said the purpose of the meeting was to gather some initial ideas and that more specific proposals may be discussed at the next meeting.

Kamak said the city’s resources for funding art projects are limited. The city’s fund for art projects, which comes from a 0.25 percent utility tax on water, sewer and garbage in the city, has been committed, but it accumulates about $2,500 a month.

As for the wood, Kamak said the giant trunk pieces and all the major limbs were saved and are waiting at the city shop. Parks Director Hank Nydam is planning on sealing the ends of the pieces to prevent them from drying too quickly and cracking further, he said.


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