Historic, beloved Hamilton tree becoming a public sculpture

The ancient Northern Red Oak that stood until last July near the Soldiers, Sailors and Pioneers monument in Hamilton along the Great Miami River will be more than a memory: It’s being carved into a sculpture with a bench that will stand at the same site.

The oak was cut down last July after a large limb fell from it, leaving tree experts to conclude it was beyond saving and a potential safety risk on the public site.

The tree was so popular with people that Steve Timmer, director of the Hamilton Parks Conservancy, which maintains parks and public areas, at the time said parks officials were looking for ways to “recycle” the tree’s 61-inch-diameter base into benches or something else.

In recent weeks, Jonathon Michaels, the owner and sculptor at Organic Art in Forest Park, has been transforming the tree’s remains into a two-sided bench, each able to seat about three adults, with sculptures of trees and waves.

The sculpture is dedicated to Fort Hamilton, which once stood on the site, and the tree itself, said Michaels, who noted one side of the back-rest will depict a tree with its roots, with another side representing a large wave with smaller rapids. Leaves and roots will wrap around the bottom part of the bench, with the waves on the other.

“I’ve been told it’s one of the oldest trees in Hamilton, and there’s a lot of special things with that tree,” Michaels said. “They wanted to incorporate that, and the river, also, so they did this, a yin-and-yang kind-of thing. So it’ll be a double-sided bench.”

Workers started on the project July 10, and will be using chainsaws and other tools during evenings in coming days. Work should end this week, depending on the weather. Helping are Brady Lantz, owner of Artic Diamond, and apprentice Jerry Neeves.

The City of Sculpture program is funding the project with community contributions.

Michaels is also known in this area because he’s the lead sculptor of Artic Diamond Ice Sculptures, which carves ice sculptures during Hamilton’s Ice Fest.

After the carving, the wood will be stained and burned to add shadows, depth and character. It then will be treated with a mix of a water-based polyurethane and an inhibitor that repels insects. Every five years after that, someone will have to power-wash the sculpture and again coat it with the protectant.

“It can last forever, for a long time,” with that treatment, Michaels said. “It’s definitely a permanent art.”

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