A large horse chestnut tree had stood in the grounds of Anlaby Park Community Library, Hull, for a number of years; it had been a real focal point for the community and the source of thousands of conkers for children spanning decades. The sight of the council turning up one day to drop it to the ground caused the volunteers at the library to race out and convince them to compromise ~ and leave it at a height of around 10ft, with the aim of it being given another life through being carved.
The Library members had specific ideas of what they’d like to see on the tree ~ an owl on the side facing the library, a small “fairy” door next to the path for the children, and a group of carvings illustrating the history of the library to be viewed on the approach to the building.
I began with the owl; there were a few tricky areas on this area, with a large patch of dark, soft wood running vertically through one side of the owl which restricted some of the work on that side. The rest of the timber in this area was extremely hard, so it was frustrating that a weak point had appeared in a prominent place; sometimes you’ve got to sigh and say, “It is what it is” ~ with trees you have lumps, bumps, rot and cracks and it’s part of the appeal and charm, otherwise everyone would have resin sculptures straight out of a mould.
I moved onto the Fairy Door next, at ground level it gave my sciatica a rest; this time the wood was very soft and crumbly in certain areas, so simplicity was the key. I’d positioned the door so I could utilise the roots for some steps, and a couple of large lumps for a lamp and some toadstools. Because the base of the tree bellied out, I had to resort to a chainsaw to flatten the area and then create the steps.
The actual mallet and chisel work was quite simple after that point, just shaping the lamp and toadstools and cleaning up round the hinges and handle.
The door was an instant hit, stories abound of small children knocking and waiting for it to be answered by the owl, and a regular pile of conkers appeared on the steps ~ a gift for the fairies?
Evidence of fairy inhabitants ~ tiny toadstools near the door, and fairy dust on the doorstep!
Lastly, it was time for the historical carvings ~ this time the wood was perfect, hard enough to take a bit of detail, but not too hard to make it a battle.
I started with the Leech Tower, which had once been a feature of Anlaby Park. Leeches were taken from an adjacent pond and cleansed in the tower before being used for medical practices, a piece of local history that not many were aware of.
The carving based on the one available photo of the tower.
Tennis courts had been a recent memory for the locals in this area, and that was the next subject, followed by some books to represent the community library.
I worked some scrolls into the design which would label the carvings, making it clear what each item represented.