Canvas in the Trees
Gig Harbor’s Arbor Art By Rachel Kelly
The Gig Harbor Arts Commission, with the financial support of the Gig Harbor City Council, is commissioning art on tree “snags” to bring beauty in unexpected places. A snag is a stump cut down by the city for reasons of safety, such as when a tree is showing signs of falling in public locations. Recently, there have been a considerable number of tree snags in Grandview Forest due to a type of rot that has infected the roots of some of our local trees. The rot lives in the soil and spreads through pine tree root systems, affecting the tree and its surrounding neighbors. Eventually the roots disintegrate, leaving a root ball that might be something like 3-feet wide, while the canopy stretches upward up to 120-feet high in a seemingly healthy fashion. Such trees are a hazard for falling—and a danger to the public if located in public places.
Forty such trees were cut down in the Grandview Forest for this reason, leaving stumps of various heights scattered throughout. Lynn Stevenson, a commissioner of the Gig Harbor Arts Commission, was walking through the forest when she spotted the snags. Here were deteriorating trees, but Lynn saw something different. “This was a great opportunity to create something fun and unexpected. How can we turn the loss of the trees into something that brings joy?” recalls Lynn. Thus began the Art Commission’s movements to make the trees into living art, with Lynn heading up the effort. The project is called Harbor Arbor Art.
The idea was so innovative and fun that it captured the heart and imagination of the other arts commissioners. Charlee Glock Johnson, the chair and representative of the Arts Commission, was quick to shout praise for Lynn’s ability to recognize the potential of the snags as a beautiful canvas, and she was happy to see Lynn head the project. “It is always an interesting project, and we feel quite fortunate,” shares Charlee.
The snag art is part of a larger stipend for the support of public art and artisans, which is distributed annually for various budgeted projects. These art projects equally enliven our community with beauty and life. The Harbor Arbor Art (HAA) is especially unique for its ability to bring purpose and life to dead trees. The city council has no trouble approving the Arbor Art as one of the yearly projects included in the budget, as it has since become very popular.
Once the budget is approved, the challenge is then to find a suitable snag. As you can imagine, not all snags are suitable for art. Some are too far along in their process of becoming mulch, some too short, and still some aren’t a wide enough canvas. Thankfully this isn’t too difficult, as Lynn is open to community communication on good prospects, works closely with the commission, and is an avid walker. Thus far, all snags have been located in Grandview Forest, but it’s not essential that all art be located there. After finding a suitable canvas, Lynn then supervises a Call for Artists and oversees their approval. The Call for Artists is sent to the city marketing department for widespread distribution, as well as personally shared with people who might be interested. Once an artist is selected, the project begins!
The first two years of the HAA project, George Kenny was selected as the recipient of the stipend. The last couple of years, Jeff Samudosky picked up the project, carving animals into the snag (Jeff is known for the sculpture in Crescent View Park). Artists are given creative license by the council to illustrate their artistic vision, and as such the art is ever evolving. Every year has a different outcome, which makes the yearly prospect an exciting one. Art is an ever-expanding and changing process; thankfully the Arts Commission is open to innovation.
This year the Gig Harbor Arts Commission will once again be making a Call for Artists to receive the stipend for snag art. The commission isn’t stuck on only creating art in Grandview Forest, nor do they require that it be chainsaw art. They are open to all ideas and are generally excited for new and varied projects that will beautify our community.
Keep yourself informed on future projects commissioned by the city by listening in on the Arts Commission meetings, which are open to the public. The meetings are available for attendance via Zoom. They are also recorded. The recorded meetings, as well as information on times and location of meetings, are accessible on the city website, CityofGigHarbor.net under government, advisory boards and then arts commission. Of course, you can also keep your eye on anything the city media department shares through all the expected channels.
Due to its popularity, Harbor Arbor Art will be back with a Call to Artists late spring/early summer. We’re all excited to see what will be created next!