Local artists are making the most of a historic tree in Greenport

06/28/2015 2:00 PM |
(Credit: Paul Squire)

These bowls were carved from a fallen elm tree by Greenport resident George Agnew. (Credit: Paul Squire)

In the center of Greenport’s Third Street Park sits a roughly waist-high stump that is several feet wide. A historic elm tree used to stand there before it was torn down by storms over the course of several years and ultimately cut down by the village due to safety concerns in 2012.

A plan to use the wood from the tree for artwork has been “on the back burner” for years, said former mayor David Nyce, who serves on the village’s tree committee.

Now, that long-overdue art project is up and running again.

The stump, as well as the chunks of leftover wood from the tree that once stood there, are being transformed into artwork as a way of benefiting the village’s tree committee and honoring one of its staunchest allies, Mr. Nyce said.

Mr. Nyce was inspired by a coffee table book about a well-liked tree in an English town. When the tree had to come down, every part of it was carved into some kind of item.

“It was a beautiful idea,” Mr. Nyce said.

So when the elm tree in Third Street Park, which had stood for more than 100 years, had to come down, then-mayor Mr. Nyce suggested the tree committee allow local artists to use pieces of reclaimed wood to create artwork.

That art is slowly trickling in to Village Hall, where it will be gathered and auctioned off to benefit the committee.

A village work crew take down the tree on Third Street in Greenport in 2012. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

A village work crew take down the tree on Third Street in Greenport in 2012. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

George Agnew, a Greenport retiree and friend of Mr. Nyce, volunteered to take some of the wood. He crafted three small wooden bowls and was the first to donate them to Village Hall.

“It’s more self-satisfaction than anything else,” Mr. Agnew admitted. “When you’re retired, you’ve got to spend your time on something.”

A small circular bowl was shaped with a lathe, while two smaller bowls were hand-carved and smoothed out with sandpaper.

The remaining artwork from a handful of other artists is expected to be donated later this summer.

As for the tree stump, Mr. Nyce — a carpenter by trade — has a special plan. He and a friend will sculpt the remains of the tree into a bench with a special inscription for former Greenport resident Lillian White, who died last year.

Ms. White was a member of the village’s original tree committee decades ago, and was instrumental in getting a “Tree City USA” designation for Greenport Village. Ms. White was also past president of the American Legion Post 185 Ladies Auxiliary and a member of Stirling Historical Society and Railroad Museum of Long Island.

Mr. Nyce met the White family during a historical society meeting when he and his wife, Jen, first moved to the village.

“They just took Jen and I under their wing,” Mr. Nyce said. “I love listening to stories and they loved to tell stories about old Greenport and how they grew up.”

One such story was about how Ms. White and her husband, Robert, etched their initials into the old Third Street Park tree decades ago. When the tree came down, no one was looking for the initials, and Mr. Nyce admits that it may be an urban legend.

But he’s decided to honor Ms. White — who constantly offered advice to the mayor during his time in office — by carving the couple’s initials into the stump bench.

“She’s a wonderful lady. They were a wonderful family,” Mr. Nyce said. “She just wanted to make sure I understood where things had been.”

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