ENCINITAS — The latest installation of public art in the city is a result of nature taking its course and the ingenuity of making the best out of a sad situation.
An 80-year-old Torrey pine removed from Swami’s park in January after falling victim to a bark beetle infestation is taking new form as local artist Tim Richards works diligently to create a tiki out of the 11-foot-tall section of the tree left by work crews. Other parts of the tree were taken by artists to be used in private collection pieces.
City Council voted in February to allow the stump to be carved into an Easter Island head. “This whole process started in November,” Richards said. After the city’s Arts Administrator, Jim Gilliam, accepted submissions, several committees and departments approved the final design before it headed to the council.
Richards and his son, Justin Ames, have teamed up to transform the stump within the next two weeks. “It’s been a really interesting experience,” Richards said. “When I first heard about it, I thought it was a great opportunity to create something in that space.” This is his first public art piece. Both men are donating their time.
In a city that highly values its tree population, many were sad to see the majestic tree come down. The Torrey pine became infested with the bark beetle last summer. The insects reproduce and feed inside older trees, while also cutting off their vascular system.
After efforts to save the tree failed, Encinitas crews cut it down Jan. 13 to keep the beetles from spreading to neighboring trees. Terry Smith, the city’s park and beach supervisor, said two replacement Torrey pines also were planted near where the infested Torrey pine stood.
Richards is an award-winning member of the International Wildfowl Carvers Association. His carvings are 100 percent wood and he prefers recycled wood selecting from pine, spruce, cedar, redwood, basswood, aspen and poplar. A variety of hand and power tools are used to carve the pieces. The painting is all done by hand using acrylics, oil paints and clear coats.
Although Richards was at the mercy of stormy weather this past weekend, he remained optimistic about the timeline for completion. “I got rained out over the weekend,” he said with a sigh. He estimates another two weeks and the project should be done. An unveiling is scheduled for April 4. “Hopefully, I’ll be done before that if the weather holds.”
With a chainsaw and hand tools for the woodcarving, Richards makes steady progress each day he works on the tree he said despite constant interruptions.
“All day long people want to talk to me,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting this much attention.”
“Most people are supportive (of the woodcarving),” Richards reported. The ones who are not on board have also expressed their opinion to the artist. “They say it’s not appropriate; that it should be a swami or a surfer,” he said.
“I still think it’s the best use for that log,” he
said. Simplicity is key with a woodcarving that might not last for more than a few years. “It’s temporary and that’s the fun thing for me — to see how long it will last.”
The self-taught retired artist moved to Encinitas in 1985. He now splits his time between Utah and his coastal hideaway.