Tree carvers Zoe and Joe Dussia of Ridgeway, Pennsylvania, created quite a masterpiece earlier this month in a Farragut couple’s backyard, saving a portion of an historic tree in the process.
After two days of intense work, the Dussias finalized a permanent wood carving that utilized the base of an enormous Red Oak tree Jay and Carol Frantz had partially removed earlier this year.
The carving is roughly 8 feet tall and depicts a mother Black bear and three cubs. At its base is a bench facing the Frantzes’ home.
Jay Frantz actually attempted to contact Randy Boni, who formerly worked in Gatlinburg and was regionally-renowned for his carvings, to create the sculpture, but discovered Boni no longer works in the area.
However, Boni was able to recommend the Dussias for the job, as Zoe is his niece, and she and her husband both are well-trained in the art of tree-carving.
The couple own and operate Appalachian Art Studios and had already planned to travel to Texas to attend the Timber Spirits Show, so the Frantz project was not too far out of the way.
The transformation of the tree was bittersweet for the Frantzes, who resisted taking it down. It was already on the property when their Sailview home was built 30 years ago, and the couple estimate it is roughly 150 to 160 years old.
Jay Frantz said the tree had grown up around a barbed wire fence, which he was able to partially remove.
“It was the biggest tree on this hillside, which used to be a farm,” he said. “At one time it was known as the kissing tree, because couples would come out here and park.”
Time, age and the unknown eventually dictated the tree’s removal.
“I was concerned about the safety of our home, and my own safety when I was outside,” Jay Frantz said of the tree, which was situated about 30 feet from their house. “There were limbs that would fall [over time], and there was a hollow spot in the bottom of the tree, so we thought it might be rotting on the inside.”
They had the tree cut in February, making sure enough was left for the carving.
“It was for sentimental reasons,” Jay Frantz said. “We felt bad about cutting it down, and we wanted to preserve it in some way.”
They both agreed on the bear theme, and investigated a variety of designs before agreeing on the depiction.
The first individual they retained for the project “was more of a carver and not an artist, which is what we wanted,” Jay Frantz said.
“There is a difference.”
Jay Frantz said he was “more than pleased” with the Dussias’ work. “I’m impressed.”
By the end of the first day the mama bear was visible at the crown of the oversized stump, which ultimately gave way to the addition of three cubs and the bench.
It was all in a day or two’s work for the Dussias, who take turns on the actual carving, giving each other periods of rest.
Projects start out as a block of wood, either free standing or, as in this case, still anchored in the ground. The couple uses a variety of marking tools, from log “crayons” to spray paint in sketching out general guidelines.
Large chainsaws begin the work, but gradually give way to smaller ones able to carve very specific and intricate details.
The projects themselves have a tendency to change, depending on the desired effects, along with the wood itself.
Zoe Dussia said in the case of the Frantz’s tree, some internal cracking forced some workarounds, as did some unforeseen knotting.
“Wood carving is interesting and challenging,” she added. “You are only taking away, not putting back. It is endless what you can do with wood.”
By mid-week, the pair had finished the majestic carving, along with four miniature black bears — one for each of the Frantzes children.
“They were sad we had to cut the tree down, and this way they can all have a piece of it,” Carol Franz said.
She added their new yard art will require “a lot of maintenance,” between ongoing wood sealing and treatment — including a 2-foot hole underneath it, which will have to be monitored.
Ultimately, it is a price the couple is willing to pay. “It is a piece of art, and it is our hope that it will be enjoyed for a long time to come,” Carol Franz said.