Controversial, downed ‘butternut’ tree becomes West Sacramento park sculpture
FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — MAY 29, 2013 —
By Steve Marschke
From something old, something new:
Thanks to the City of West Sacramento, a Sacramento sculptor, a chainsaw, and a deal with a West Sacramento preservation group, a hunk of that old “butternut tree” removed from the Bridge District in 2010 will soon see new life in a local park.
Artist Adam Bradley has turned the chunk into the bust of an elephant, soon to be installed as a climbable play structure in a Southport park. The city has just finished soliciting bids for the installation work. Kids will begin clambering on the elephant sometime in the next few months at Emile “Whitey” Boisclair Park, 1728 Lake Washington Boulevard.
“Butternut tree” is in quotes here because, while environmentalists fought so save the big tree in the belief that it might be the largest butternut specimen in existence, city officials say it really wasn’t. It was neither a butternut nor “a tree,” they told the News-Ledger, and it hadn’t (as some believed) been alive since the 1850s.
That is: the tree wasn’t one specimen, but three grown together, said city urban forest manager Dena Kirtley. That was apparent after the West Sacramento Conservancy lost its preservation battle and the tree was removed to make way for Bridge District development.
“You could clearly see the three trunks,” she commented last week.
Long before that, UC Davis walnut expert Chuck Leslie looked at the nuts from the tree and concluded they were “classic examples of paradox (walnut) nuts – they don’t even resemble a butternut.” The “paradox walnut” is a hybrid of black and English walnuts. The big tree didn’t have a graft line, so city officials think it grew from seeds and not from nursery stock.
CalTrans photos supplied by the city and the memories of a former resident near the tree site, Dale Payne, seemed to support the theory that the tree was much younger than 150 years old. So did a look at the growth rings after it was chopped, said Kirtley.
But the tree on Tower Street, just north of the US 50 bridge over the river was, by all accounts, very big.
The conservancy’s Jeri Wingfield reported in 2010:
“I went and got a long measuring tape and asked my husband Bill to help me measure it. It was something like 22 feet, four inches around.”
In any event, following a controversy argued out on both sides of the Sacramento River, the big tree came down in 2010. But not before a legal challenge and a settlement between the City of West Sacramento and the West Sacramento Conservancy. Some of the terms of that deal:
“The city will plant 45 specimen trees (24-inch box) in heritage groves. The selection of the trees, planting sites, and planting process will be determined in consultation with the Conservancy,” a City of West Sacramento press release said at the time. “The city will install a commemorative plaque recognizing the large, hybrid butternut tree. The city will arrange to have the wood from the tree reused in a manner that respects the size and quality of the wood, including artwork, furniture and other interior decorations that can be viewed by the public. A cross-section of the tree trunk showing the rings and age of the tree will be donated to the West Sacramento Historical Society.”
The City also agreed to install a monument honoring the 1850s-era C.W. Reed nursery at the site, although officials don’t believe the big tree came from the nursery. That plaque has been designed by local artist Jahn Kloss. It hasn’t yet been installed.
The City’s Dena Kirtley said local government made several big chunks of the downed tree available to “as many local wood sculptors and artists as we could find.”
Artist Robert Beauchamp of Zamora made a “really nice bench with end tables” that will go outside the city council chambers,” she told the News-Ledger.
“Adam Bradley ended up with the very large chunk,” added Kirtley. “It was from the base of the tree, so it was pretty massive.”
That’s the one that is headed for the park playground.
“I think it was just under 5,000 pounds when I received it,” Bradley told the News-Ledger. “It probably lost 500-600 pounds of water weight (before carving).”
Why an elephant?
“He lets the wood talk to him,” said Kirtley. “We both saw the elephant, actually.”
“We looked at this piece we liked, and at the material, and imagined what it could be,” said Bradley. “It definitely had the shape of an elephant’s head. I did some drawings with an elephant’s bust in mind, and the city liked that.”
The entire elephant project – including installation – will cost about $16,000, said Kirtley. She said that is not too different from the cost of installing a play structure at a park. The carving cost was about $4,500.
“I didn’t count the specific (labor) hours,” said Bradley. “I’ve probably got about 50 hours into carving it. We used chainsaws and power tools. We sculpted it with the chainsaw and detailed it with power tools.”
Because of the elephant’s massive size and the fact that it will be mounted off the ground, Kirtley and Bradley believe it will last “for decades.” That’s even with a bunch of little kids climbing up the elephant’s trunk.
Information about Bradley’s “DAB Art Studio” in Sacramento is at dab-art.weebly.com.
The tree came because the low spot it sat in was deemed the best place for some infrastructure in the city’s Bridge District, north of the freeway.
What does the West Sacramento Conservancy think of the elephant sculpture that is coming out of the deal over the old “butternut tree”?
Member Jeri Wingfield, speaking for herself, still mourns the old tree on Tower Street.
“It was a beautiful tree, and it’s too bad it had to go, but the way the world is, you have to go with it,” she recently told the News-Ledger. “I think the City tried to make a good bargain with us. . . Having a beautiful sculpture come out of it is terrific.”
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