Illinois hunting and fishing
Luke Harris (left) & Don Johnson (right) carve the Leaning Tree at Starved Rock

Bringing “The Leaning Tree” to life

November 21, 2010 at 10:39 AM

UTICA, IL – A tall, dead tree stood near the entrance of Starved Rock Lodge for more than a year. Until this past week, its future was the fireplace in the Great Hall. Then, Luke Harris and Don Johnson returned to Utica to work their magic, using chainsaws and angle grinders to create what is now the most detailed sculpture in Starved Rock’s “Art in the Park” collection. Terry Cross, Starved Rock Lodge president and CEO, met the “Itchy Brothers” duo several years ago when he returned to his hometown of Alton, IL several years ago.  After being impressed by several other woodcarvings they had created for the Lodge, he commissioned them to create 4 new carvings this week.

The first new carving is a sign marking the entrance to Starved Rock’s newest common area called FOX RIDGE. The outdoor amphitheater is located just south of the main Lodge entrance, on a hillside that previously saw little use. The sign is made out of a hedge tree, which is a very hard type of wood, able to stand up to brutal Illinois winters.  Also added to Fox Ridge is a Native American Indian Chief made of red oak. Both of these were carved off-site and brought to Starved Rock.

“The Leaning Tree” was completed late Wednesday, with the carvers putting on the finishing touches in the dark.

“This is one of the tallest and most detailed pieces we’ve ever done,” said Don Johnson, “I’ve been at this for 10 years and Luke has been carving for 20. It still amazes me how no two carvings look alike!”

The “Leaning Tree” stands more than 15 feet in height and includes figures, starting with an Indian Chief at the top and the words STARVED ROCK just below that. The other characters cascading down the sides are an eagle with a fish, an owl, a heron, 5 arrowheads, 2 oak leaves with acorns, a bear, a fawn, and an Indian maiden named after Harris’ daughter, Shawn.

“My daughter’s great, great grandmother was from the Blackfoot tribe and we were told she was traded or sold when she was just 13 years old,” said Harris, “My daughter’s face has the cheekbones and lips like a Blackfoot, so I thought she was the perfect image for this piece.”

The top of “The Leaning Tree” was lopped off and from it Johnson carved four smaller sculptures of two bears, a dog and a white pelican.  Those were placed inside of “The Hollow Tree,” which stands at the entrance to the path leading to St. Louis Canyon (near the West Shelter).

There are now over 32 works of art in Starved Rock’s “Art in the Park” exhibit. Most of the sculptures are outside the Lodge on paths that are wheelchair and stroller-friendly. A self-guided tour map of the display is available at the hotel front desk and in the Great Hall.

“I keep adding to the collection because I think people have fun looking at all the different sculptures,” said Cross, “We see many guests taking photos with our sculptures and taking home lasting memories of their stay at Starved Rock.”