As he chiseled away last week, carving 13 whimsical faces, First Nations images and “tree spirit” houses into the bark of eight cottonwood trees, a bald eagle hovered in the area, watching over him. The eagle was there again Monday morning as master carver Elmer Gunderson paused at a towering tree in Cottonwood Island Park beside his artwork.
He was greeted by dedicated nature walker Colleen Kelly.
“You’ve created quite a stir,” she said. “It’s been a big contest among our regular walkers who can find them (carvings) first. Your work is just phenomenal.” Kelly wanted to know if Gunderson will be carving more trees in the area anytime soon.
“Well, maybe next spring when it’s warmer,” he said, laughing. “It got pretty cold working out here last week.”
The project, funded by the City of Prince George, is dedicated to the history and nature of the area. The artist works higher up the trees, on scaffolding, to discourage vandals. Already, one of his carved faces has had the nose broken off.
Gunderson regards the incident as almost a compliment, he said.
“Actually, it made me proud because it reminded me that Michelangelo’s work, Pieta had suffered a similar disfiguration in 1973.” The local carver is fond of these woods. He has a history with the park itself and with the forest. Its winding paths, interesting twists and turns, and even moss covered, decayed trees hold special meaning for him.
“It’s like going back in time for me,” said Gunderson. “About 21 years ago when I was in charge of the parks crew for the City, these paths were created as part of a community works project. They slashed trees, cleared the area, put down gravel and made the walkways. So this park is very sentimental to me.”