Artist turns iconic tree into commemorative bowls and pens
NEW BRAINTREE, Mass. (AP) — For five years the remains of the tree sat decaying on the ground in the forest off Bridge Road.
Now, a former selectman is breathing new life into the wood from the tree that was the state’s Champion White Oak, a local icon felled by an arsonist in 2012.
“I just thought it was a shame that it was just sitting there, so I asked Nancy Salem (whose family has owned the property for years) if I could take some of the wood and turn it into pens and bowls,” said Martin Goulet, who was a selectman when the great tree burned and toppled.
With permission granted, Mr. Goulet drove the rough seasonal road, pushed a wheelbarrow up the trail to the tree, gathered some wood and took it home.
He’d taken up wood turning as a hobby a few years ago and set up a workshop at his home, where his wife, Karen, sometimes gets to keep pieces that don’t meet his standards.
In the basement workshop, his handiwork waits in a variety of stages of completion near his lathe.
First, he creates a thick-walled rough bowl that is dried in the microwave before being turned again to thin and smooth it. The finished bowl is treated with oil and shines like a showpiece, an homage to the tree that was standing more than three centuries ago, many years before the town was incorporated in 1751.
“Everyone in town has a story about the tree,” Mr. Goulet said. “There were a number of people that said we used to go up there to have picnics with the kids ... (some said) ‘I had my first kiss at that tree.’ ”
Because the memories were so dear, Mr. Goulet said, he wanted those people to be able to have a part of the tree that they fondly remembered.
“I like the idea of having some mementos of history,” he said.
“It was an important part of Native American culture,” he said, adding that he remembers visiting the tree 30 years ago when his children were young and seeing gifts left by Native Americans hanging in the branches.
While the tree’s location is private property, local folks were welcome to hike to the tree for a visit. Some took photographs of special occasions beneath its 100-foot canopy.
In 1983, when it was designated as a Great Oak, schoolchildren walked to the site for a special program on Arbor Day. Children read poems about trees, and local and state officials sang the praises of the tree.
Mr. Goulet said he can make just about anything from the wood, and he’s willing to entertain special orders if the customers are patient, because he does other work full-time.
He said he can turn bowls, pens, vases and, if someone wants one, a cremation urn. The pens start at $20 and bowls at about twice that.
At a recent craft fair, he sold out of the pens. Each item comes with a certificate explaining the significance of the wood. Mr. Goulet donates some of his pieces to the local Hearts for Heat charity.
Although the fire happened more than five years ago, Hardwick-New Braintree Police Lt. Kevin Landine said investigators still hope someone will come forward with information that will help them solve the case. The towns’ fire department worked with the state fire marshal’s office on the case.
“It’s still an open investigation,” Lt. Landine said, adding that leads have been sparse.
The arson wasn’t the first vandalism at the tree. In 2000, someone spray-painted its trunk, and children who discovered the graffiti reported it to police. A state police sergeant who lived nearby offered to put up a “no trespassing after dark” sign, but the area remained open for people to enjoy.
Back then, the Champion Oak was 97 feet tall, with a circumference of 247 inches at 4½ feet from the ground. Its canopy was 99 feet in diameter.
Information from: Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, Mass.), http://www.telegram.com