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Carvings stand tall Sculptures from trees destroyed by storm displayed in square

Resurrected versions of Frank Lloyd Wright, Frederick Law Olmsted and Harold Arlen are giving felled trees second lives.

Carvings of the three historical figures, each weighing about a ton, took up residence Monday in Niagara Square as part of a display of eight sculptures from trees damaged during the October Surprise snowstorm.

The display also includes a wooden menagerie containing a bear, an eagle, a bass and a buffalo, as well as a mystery man whose identity viewers can guess at www.carvingsforacause.com to win a free carved bison.

The carvings represent some of the 30 sculptures that Therese Forton-Barnes hopes to see displayed in the city by winter, with another 30 completed by next summer. Forton-Barnes is seeking sponsors for the statues, with proceeds to benefit Re-Tree Western New York, an organization seeking to plant 30,000 trees to replace October casualties.

Forton-Barnes hatched the idea to reuse trees damaged in the October storm when she visited a friend's log home in Albany three days after the storm. The home displayed multiple examples of Corfu carver Rick Pratt's work, giving Forton-Barnes a vision for Carvings for a Cause.

"I said, 'Oh my God, wouldn't this be great if we could take all the trunks from the storm and have them carved into significant and historical figures?' " she said.

Forton-Barnes joined forces with Pratt, who has a 10-year career as a full-time carver.

Pratt began the sculpture series by marking trees at area dump sites that do not have rot spots, deep bark around the branches or "ring shake" -- a defect that causes cracks in the rings of the tree. He looks for trees with soft wood, such as silver maples or Chinese maples, before spending four to five days carving each 8- to 9-foot statue.

"If trees could talk, what would they tell us?" he wondered, adding he tries to bring out features from inside the tree.

In their first hour of display in Niagara Square, the statues tempted passers-by to slow down and admire the artwork.

Adrian Benton, 16, of Buffalo first commented on the bass, carved from a 100-year-old silver maple to represent Lake Erie's smallmouth bass population.

"The fish is very unique," he said. "I've never seen a fish in front of City Hall before."

But many onlookers ventured guesses at the mystery man's identity, suggesting men such as President Bush, radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh and Tim Russert of NBC's "Meet the Press."

Using local resources makes the carvings more special, said Larissa Gilbert, 28, of St. Petersburg, Fla., who was touring Buffalo while in Western New York for a family reunion.

"I think it says a lot about the people to take something from the storm and make it into something beautiful," she said.

The sculptures will be on display in Niagara Square until Aug. 24, but Forton-Barnes says she hopes the carvings become permanent fixtures throughout the city. She is recruiting sponsors to pay $5,000 to display a statue in the city and $7,500 for a sculpture to stand in a public place outside a specific business. About $4,000 from each sponsorship pays for the costs of creating and transporting the sculpture, with the rest of the sponsorship payment to benefit Re-Tree.

"Busloads of tourists can go around and view them," she said. "It's going to tell a story about something to do with Western New York."

The project serves as a way to ensure the trees, which often spent 75 to 200 years gracing the Western New York landscape, receive respect, Pratt said, "rather than just being ground up and used for a mulch pile."

And restoring a purpose to the trees brings joy to area residents, Forton-Barnes said.

"These trees -- something that we thought were going to be lost forever. . . . There's something good that can come of it," she said.

e-mail: cthompson@buffnews.com

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