I recycle dead trees into spiritual art. I don’t know of anyone else in the States who does this. I know there are some guys who carve bears with chain saws, but that’s it.
I got interested in woodcarving after a trip to Jamaica in 1990. I started out carving totem shrines. About three years ago, I noticed a dead oak tree in a garden I was gopher-proofing near the intersection of Coldwater Canyon Boulevard and Mulholland Drive.
I offered to carve it in exchange for room and board at TreePeople’s headquarters at the Coldwater Canyon Park. TreePeople is a Los Angeles forest preservation group.
It took me a year and a half to carve the 3,500-pound tree into the “Shrine to the Rainforest.” The carving, which stands at the trail head in the park, features a large Greek tree nymph.
I had to rent a forklift to move the tree. I used a chain saw to chop off the big hunks, and hand chisels and a mallet to finish carving.
Last summer I was an artist in residence at the Avondale Forest Park in Wicklow, Ireland, where I spent two months carving the “Shrine to the Rainforest II” out of a 42-ton beech tree.
I carved an Earth goddess with fruit, a man building with wood and a “green” man into the side of the 250-year-old tree. Visit my Web site at https://www.wavenet.com/byates/ to see pictures of these carvings.
About four weeks ago, I started carving a Kanzeon--the Japanese version of Quanyin, the Chinese goddess of mercy--out of an 8-foot-tall branch from the world’s largest Torrey pine tree.
The sculpture, which weighed about three-quarters of a ton when I started, will sit in the garden at the Zen Center in Los Angeles. I’m living in a small apartment there in exchange for my work on the tree. I should finish this project in about six weeks.
Up until this point, I’ve traded my services for room and board, but I hope someday to make money as a tree sculptor.