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Huge tree carving is the new wonder of Old Town

Tom and Oonagh Gray admire the sculpture. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Tom and Oonagh Gray admire the sculpture. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

  • by DAVID McCANN
 

IT’S the titanic trend in sculpture that takes whittling to bizarre new heights. Tree carving – which can be carried out for as little as £200 per tree – is growing in popularity with Capital garden owners who want to transform rotten or unstable trees.

Now the craze of chainsaw sculpture has produced its most dramatic showpiece yet – an elaborate 12ft artwork that has become a wonder of the Old Town.

The living sculpture was fashioned from an age-old lime tree lopped down amid fears it would topple over in its tenement garden.

But rather than lose it altogether, owners Oonagh and Tom Gray recruited a master craftsman to transform the remaining stump into an elaborate scene from children’s poem The Owl and the Pussycat.

In just two days, sculptor Peter Bowsher created this imaginative alfresco artwork, so intricate even the £5 note from the poem has been etched into the wood.

The artist’s handiwork is now a centrepiece of the Canongate garden, winning praise from neighbours and community groups.

It was Mrs Gray’s passion for owls that inspired the towering sculpture.

“We had a house in Cramond and had to get rid of a tree one time and afterwards we thought it was a shame we didn’t do anything with the trunk,” she said.

“This time we were determined to make the most of it.

“I wanted an owl to be carved into it but there was so much wood we thought why not have the story of the owl, the pussycat and the boat.”

One of the startling aspects of the Mr Bowsher’s piece was his skill working freehand.

Mrs Gray said: “The thing that’s most amazing was that he did it all off the hoof without any plans.

“A neighbour had asked for a diagram but no-one could believe that Peter was creating it as he went along. We had people shouting out very complimentary things from the surrounding flats.

Resident Anja Amsel, who is honorary president of Edinburgh Old Town Association, said the artwork was “utterly beautiful”.

“I think it’s absolutely marvellous,” she said. “The lime tree was very old and also pretty dangerous so had to come down.

“I’ve lived here for 33 years and it’s always been here – it could have been could be 200 years old.

“I had no idea what was going to happen when they had it cut down leaving quite a tall stump, but this is such an imaginative thing to do.

“Watching Peter work, I didn’t realise chainsaw carving could be so subtle and he used different blades for the finer parts.”

She added: “I think doing this keeps the memory of the tree and I have never seen anything so good.”

Mr Bowsher, who is said to have a bulging order book, was unavailable for comment.

However, a rival tree whittler said: “People see it as an imaginative option. I charge around £200 per tree and do native Indian totem poles.”

A demonstration of the skill will take place at Outdoor Pursuits Edinburgh, being held on April 21 and 22 at the Corn Exchange.

‘More people wanting to try it’

TREE sculptor Iain Chalmers, of Chainsaw Creations, has been working in the niche industry for the last ten years and said it has never been more popular.

He said: “There’s certainly more people wanting to try it, but I can’t say what the reason is. There are only half a dozen serious carvers in Scotland, so it’s not like it is a booming industry. I do about 100 commissions a year.

“I tend to do a lot of shows in the summer and travel around, but I also do on-site work. The biggest was probably a huge Gruffalo – the kids character – in Bearsden, Glasgow, which was 16ft tall.”

 

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