The emerald ash borer, an invasive insect, has devastated the white ash trees in Berks County and throughout the East.
Many of the dead and dying trees have fallen naturally or have been cut down with the chain saw.
On one stretch of River Road outside Pioneer Park in Muhlenberg Township, utility companies cut ash trees that threatened the power lines but left standing a large portion of the trunks.
Nearby resident Tom Irwin noticed these standing remnants and thought of an idea that would honor the memory of his late wife, Tucker, who passed away last year.
He thought a more creative use of a chain saw would be appropriate.
“That’s a canvas for a chain saw artist,” he said. “I had seen some of Randy Pieller’s work, and so I thought, let’s see if I can go to the township and ask permission to commission a work of art, public art.”
Karen Schreiber, township director of parks and recreation, welcomed the idea.
“It definitely is a unique project,” she said. “It’s very touching that Tom commissioned this artwork in memory of his wife, and we facilitated making it happen on public land. I thought it would be really cool.”
Pieller, a former contractor from Leesport who turned to chain saw carving eight years ago following a work injury, met with Irwin over the winter and discussed what would be included in the sculpture.
“We talked about what animals to include, and so obviously, you know, I couldn’t fit all the animals on there, but I tried to,” Pieller said. “I have eight or nine different animals — three raccoons, a buck and doe and a fawn, a cardinal, an eagle, and now a fox and a goose.”
Irwin said his wife was fascinated with the birds and the animals that lived along the river.
“We live a mile from here and we always took River Road,” Irwin said, “and Tucker was looking for animals all the time. There’s a goose on there. We watched the geese have their goslings every year.
“There’s a fox that lives in these woods, and Randy got pretty much all the animals in the wood here. And that’s the name of the piece; I’ve named it the ‘Animals of the Wood.’”
Pieller worked on the project for nearly a week and put the finishing touches on it May 22.
Right from the start, the project drew the attention of passing motorists.
“I’m telling you, there must have been 100 people a day stop while I’m here working,” Pieller said. “I probably lost a whole day of work with all the people that stopped and asked about it.”
Indeed, as Pieller briefly paused from his work to talk with a reporter, three cars pulled into the park to have a closer look at the sculpture in progress.
And Irwin has also been an interested bystander.
“It’s certainly drawn a lot of attention,” he said. “I’ve been down here, and people slow down to look at it. It’s an honor for them to do that.”
Irwin is pleased with the results.
“Randy does an exquisite job,” he said, “and he’s very gracious. I gave him complete artistic control.”
A dedication of the sculpture will take place in July.
Schreiber said the township will be responsible for the maintenance of the sculpture and will apply an annual coating of sealant to help preserve it.
Irwin hopes the sculpture will inspire others to commission public art.
“I am somebody who always has appreciated what our previous generations have left us to admire and enjoy,” he said. “And so it’s a privilege to do this for others to enjoy.”
Source: Berkshire mont