Manahawkin Tree Sculpture Is Monument to Regional Identity

By Victoria Ford | Sep 25, 2019
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Stafford Township — By now, anyone who has driven along East Bay Avenue in Manahawkin lately has noticed the 10-foot-tall tree carving standing outside the municipal complex. Professional carver Kevin Treat spent three days last week transforming the ailing beech tree trunk into a symbol of the area’s natural landscape and values.

“They wanted a composition that reflected the spirit of the community,” he said, stepping away from the chainsaw for a brief chat on Wednesday, Sept. 18, his third and final day on the job. Officials gave him a general direction and allowed him to use his creativity to design the sculpture.

At the top, a proud osprey perches on a branch, clutching a striped bass in its talons; below the raptor are an egret, some cattails and pine trees; below that, a water line, with fish and terrapins; and, standing faithfully in the background, Barnegat Lighthouse.

“There’s an identity to it, something (locals) can relate to,” he said.

Treat, known as the “sawptician,” given his previous career path as an eye care professional before he gave it up to carve full time in 2010, was honored to have won the bid for the project. He has fond memories of his college days, coming down to Long Beach Island to windsurf. Native to a small rural town in Pennsylvania, Treat works out of a detached garage at his home in Lake Winola, where he is inspired by wildlife.

His 16-year-old daughter, Olivia, helps him out at shows.

His material of choice is usually white pine, but he adapts his style and technique as the circumstances require. Although he always has a game plan going in, “you never know until you cut into it” what shape a carving will ultimately take. As he saws away the layers of time and growth, he is likely to encounter more nails and staples than anything else.

In this case, the 200-year-old tree had succumbed to a bracket fungus after being treated by an arborist for several years. But as experts informed officials, treating the doomed tree in its advanced state of decay was no longer ethical. A bracket fungus produces shelf- or bracket-shaped fruiting bodies called conks and causes rotting of heartwood in a variety of trees – a common cause of decay and death of beeches and poplars.

Although the tree at town hall could not be saved, Treat’s artwork, with a deck sealer and varnish followed by annual reapplication and routine maintenance, will give it an additional 12 to 15 years or so of “life,” albeit in a different form.

“Nothing is forever,” he said.

Treat won second place in the Tuckerton Seaport’s “Carve Wars” competition this year. Since 1996, he has carved over 5,000 sculptures, located throughout the country and on public display in the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum, Tuckerton Seaport museum and the Pennsylvania Anthracite Heritage Museum. His carvings have been commissioned by parks, schools, hospitals and the U.S. Air Force. His live chainsaw carving demonstrations, whereby he transforms logs into uniquely crafted, one-of-a-kind sculptures, are a big hit at fairs, festivals and other events.

He likened his array of chainsaws to a set of golf clubs, each for a different shot. Larger saw blades do the work of early cuts ; smaller blades are for finer work.

For the desired effect as viewed mainly by passing motorists, he said, overall proportion is more important than detail.

— Victoria Ford

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