A pair of dead ash trees frozen in the crippling cold a yr in the past may – beneath usual conditions – be destined for the chopping block.
But at the Abilene Zoo, it is additional of a circle-of-existence tale.
The zoo chose to make a thing lovely, lasting and even instructional out of the trees missing in the 2021 storm.
“Instead of chopping them fully down, the Abilene Zoo Society board and I resolved to repurpose the trees into operates of art and conservation messaging,” said Jesse Pottebaum, the zoo’s director.
The function took 4 days, commencing Feb. 16 and ending Feb. 20.
Carving out conservation
Enter Ray Banfield Jr. of Granbury, together with two fellow artists – Jimmy Hobbs of Grand Saline and Justin Driver of Farmington, Kentucky.
The gentlemen ended up contracted by the zoo to carve the trees into artwork showcasing Madagascar, its animals and the zoo’s conservation attempts there.
The job is “in the spirit of keeping everything intact with the zoo and just repurposing what we presently have, but in essence earning it an training energy,” stated Mandy Ott, in charge of occasions and development for the zoo.
Right after a tour of the zoo Feb. 16, the guys fired up their chainsaws, chipping away outdated wood to reveal a menagerie of animals and even a world hidden inside.
1 tree, situated in close proximity to the hyena and giraffe exhibits, particularly is devoted to conservation, Banfield claimed.
“(They) needed me to make confident Madagascar was up entrance,” Banfield, getting a pause from carving out continents with a deft flick of his saw.
A map all around the trunk reveals areas the zoo spends some of its bucks for discussion efforts, Ott explained.
“We deliver (cash for) conservation initiatives over to particular parts that have been influenced by wildfire in the Madagascar region,” she reported. “So, this is in which our true funds have long gone. Which is what he’s showcasing.”
A handcrafted signal, highlighting the Abilene Zoo Conservation Fund, also is aspect of the layout, showcased on Banfield’s Fb webpage.
Amid other design elements, it features two giraffes entwined to make the “A” in “conservation.”
Just about the way, a 2nd ash tree in close proximity to the zoo’s lake began having condition, featuring a fossa, a Madagascar carnivore that resembles a cat, stalking a lemur.
In the interesting, midday breeze Feb. 16, the day the undertaking commenced, an occasional trace of spray stirred up by wind and drinking water baptized the operate, even though wood chips and sawdust started to include the ground like new-fallen snow.
Even though nascent, a person could currently see common kinds emerge from minimize tree limbs thanks to the swift get the job done of Driver and Hobbs.
“Basically, we’re striving to use every Madagascar animal that they have in this article at the zoo,” Banfield reported.
By Friday, the tree around the lake experienced blossomed into a zoo of its personal, every branch protected in intricate operate reworking them in to perches for birds and animals, the trunk performed in a reduction style.
By the end of the job, what had at the time been dead wood experienced been transformed into a riot of raptors, reptiles, amphibians and even bugs.
Animals on the conservation tree involve the lesser hedgehog tenrec, the panther chameleon and the Madagascan tree boa.
Animals on the second tree, called in its last form the “seek out and find” tree, include the ring-tailed lemur, the black and white ruffed lemur, the fossa, the Madagascan heron, the Madagascan barn owl, the blue coua, the Madagascar sea eagle, the sickle-billed vanga, the Malagasy leaf-nosed snake, the radiated tortoise, the satanic leaf-tailed gecko, the large day gecko, the Madagascar hissing cockroach and the comet moth.
Acquiring a passion
Banfield, who owns Rayzor Sharp Chainsaw Art, was introduced to carving in 2016, when he and his wife traveled to Vancouver and visited Grouse Mountain, a 4,100-foot-tall peak that capabilities aerial tramways, mountaineering and skiing.
A series of wood carvings in the region were being “inspirational” to him.
“I was presently in the firewood organization and presently common with chainsaws,” he explained. “I did some investigation and started off actively playing in the yard.”
Four many years in, Banfield’s artwork is now much a lot more than mere enjoy.
Two of his pieces are publicly exhibited in Granbury, while a lot of his other function in private palms, he reported.
When he’s not shaping wood, he functions at Lockheed Martin, building ejection seats.
He does not get to exam them, he reported, and there is admittedly not a great deal that immediately interprets about to woodcarving.
“Aircraft, you build by a strategy, a book,” he claimed.
That stated, it is critical to appear organized a prepare, he stated, when shaping wood into a little something speculative or breathtaking.
In the movement
Asked what he enjoys about carving, Banfield in contrast it to a mindfulness practice, this sort of as Yoga.
“You put your headphones on and you are in your have minimal earth,” he said. “You ignore about everyone viewing you.”
If there is a problem, he mentioned, “you just hope when you’re accomplished that everyone enjoys it.”
Driver said he started out carving simply for the reason that he was “bored one working day.”
Now, it’s his comprehensive-time job.
Tree-carving is one thing you master by carrying out, he reported.
“At initially you’re just kind of winging it,” he reported. “What the heck is heading to transpire with this?”
When you pass a particular issue, the tree “kind of talks to you,” he claimed.
“It tells you, ‘You can place this ear below and this arm here,’” he explained. “You find out how to flow with that tree.”
A matter of time
Hobbs’ knowledge is equivalent, and he stated it just will take “time” to study how to flip a tree department into, say, a creeping fossa.
But Hobbs has 10 yrs of carving practice and on prime of that, he’s owned his possess tree assistance for 20 a long time and been a tree-climber for 30.
So, it is safe to say he is familiar with his way around lopping limbs. But turning those limbs into zoological fantasies?
Now, that is a different animal.
“You can see a little something in your head or in the piece of wooden, and it just takes time to discover how to do that,” he reported.
When you’re in that zone, “you type of get shed in it,” he reported, similar to the meditation-like experience his fellow carvers described.
“When you get started, you just type of overlook what you are carrying out,” he mentioned. “You’re into that piece of wooden and you’re contemplating about what’s heading to occur.”
A ‘landmark’ knowledge
Banfield admitted he wasn’t acquainted with Abilene’s zoo till he was contacted about the carving undertaking.
But his tour impressed him.
“It’s a definite landmark for your metropolis,” he said.
With a couple shares to social media, he already experienced captivated two folks from Fort Really worth, as effectively as relatives users from Breckenridge, who informed him they planned to arrive examine out his get the job done and the animals.
Ott claimed Abilene’s zoo has about 250,000 visitors each calendar year.
Pretty much fifty percent of its yearly people, 48%, are not from Taylor County. About a quarter of the tally from out of condition, she stated.
The ash trees, which had been at the zoo when it opened in 1966, had been an essential component of the landscape, Ott said, furnishing shade for animals and individuals, although beautifying the space.
Even though the cold slice their lives short, the hope is that they will keep on to delight and educate readers in their new, reimagined types.
And if nothing else, Banfield, Driver and Hobbs’ operate just proves there’s a tiny bit of the wild in all of us — even if it might choose some perform, and probably, a chain noticed, to carry it out.
Brian Bethel covers city and county federal government and general news for the Abilene Reporter-News. If you respect locally pushed information, you can guidance community journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.
The place to see much more
Ray Banfield’s Fb page for Rayzor Sharp Chainsaw Art is entire of whimsical and poignant patterns. You can obtain it by seeking for the name.
Illustrations include things like:
►A bare-bottomed, bouquet-keeping sasquatch.
►A tiny, white doggy to guard a beloved pet’s ashes.
►A chorus of smart, previous faces.
►A entire jamboree of bears.
►A bevy of birds, like a notably animated coyote-chasing roadrunner.
►Holiday decorations, these types of as a grinning Jack-o-Lantern.
►And eventually, a 7-foot shark. (We’re going to will need a even bigger boat.)
In addition to his Facebook site, Banfield has an Instagram account that highlights his do the job at @ray_banfield_jr.