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Sculptor carves fallen trees in Great Neck

Sculptor Ken Packie carves up the trunk of

Sculptor Ken Packie carves up the trunk of a tree that was damaged on the Village Green in Great Neck. (Oct. 5, 2012) Photo Credit: Scott Eidler

After a three-minute burst of thunderstorms turned Great Neck's Village Green into a "war zone," its towering trees -- some nearly a century old -- lay like fallen soldiers.

More than two years later, new trees have been planted in their place. Monday, an internationally acclaimed sculptor will start carving the last stump from the fallen giants into art -- a memorial to the history lost that day, June 24, 2010.

Ruth Tamarin, a park district commissioner, recalled the day after the storm. "I stood in the middle of the Green and cried; it was really devastating."

Peter Renick, acting superintendent of the Great Neck Park District, said, "It took us weeks and months to clean up everything." Crews removed fallen trees, put in saplings and sliced the severely damaged trunks into stumps. But there were three exceptions.

Some trunks, they decided, should stay as a reminder of the trees, some 100 feet tall. Last year, Ken Packie, a Massachusetts woodcarver, was hired. So far, he's finished sculpting two into art, and Monday he begins work on the third and final one. He expects to finish within seven days.

Resident Elizabeth Allen pushed for the park to preserve the trunks, the largest of which is 12 feet tall. The Great Neck Friends of the Parks Foundation helped raise about $9,000, Renick said, for Packie's services.

"We couldn't have our trees back, but we could do something with the stumps other than grind them into dust," Allen said. The artwork serves as "a kind of memorial to the glory that was some of these trees."

Among Packie's creations is an eagle clutching a flag, which he calls an homage to the village's veterans. The second, finished last month, depicts a totem pole of animals, a nod to the area's diverse wildlife. The next sculpture is to resemble "children at play."

Those who have watched him work said he comes without meticulous plans and sticks to a theme set by the village.

Packie, 48, a former telecommunications technician, is a latecomer to the field -- he's been at it for seven years, four of them full-time, But earlier this year, he shared first place in the woodcarving world championship in Germany.

When he carves here, Packie attracts large crowds, which parks officials predict will be on hand Monday for the annual harvest festival. "Everybody has come up and said you should have seen this park; it had this huge canopy of old trees," he said.

For resident Allen, the woodcarving project compensates for the loss in a way new trees do not.

"Yes, they planted young trees, because we want the next generation to have what we had, but it's going to take decades for those trees to grow into maturity," she said. "Our generation will never experience what we had in our Village Green."

But "the Green," said commissioner Tamarin, "is on its way back."



Trunk 1: Oak

Size: 11 feet

Sculpture: Eagle clutching flag

Completed: October 2011


Trunk 2: Maple

Size: 12 feet

Sculpture: Wildlife totem pole

Completed: September 2012


Trunk 3: Beech

Size: 12 feet

Sculpture: Children at play

Work begins Oct. 8

-- Scott Eidler

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