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Artists get first cut of historic elm tree in Greenport

Furniture makers Seth Weizenecker and Mike Javidi analyze

Furniture makers Seth Weizenecker and Mike Javidi analyze a piece of tree trunk from an historic elm tree taken down in Greenport's Third Street park. (June 13, 2012) Credit: Erin Geismar

Mike Javidi put his hand on a the rough, damp bark of the massive cut of a tree trunk in front of him.

It was at least four feet in diameter and came from the mid-section of an historic elm tree cut down from Third Street Park in Greenport.

Mayor David Nyce put out a call to artists via Facebook to come claim a piece of the wood for a project of their choosing.

Javidi, a furniture maker with a store in Greenport, was one of the first to show and he was eyeing an impossible piece.

“How big is the mill?” he asked, referring to a Mattituck-based saw mill that was going to turn the trunk into planks for the furniture makers.

“Not that big,” said Nyce with a laugh. But Nyce, also a furniture maker, saw the temptation of the great trunk.

They both marveled at the beauty of the wood and what they might find when they cut into it. Nyce said the elm was more than 100 years old, but most of its limbs were hollow and weak and began to fall during storms.

“We can’t really have a dangerous tree in a playground,” he said, so it had to be removed.

Nyce got the idea for giving away the wood to artists from a coffee-table book he received from his wife years ago that included a story about a village in England that undertook the same project. The artists will have about a year to work with the wood, documenting it along the way, and there will be an art show and auction in the fall.

The money made from auctioning off the pieces will benefit the village’s Tree Committee, which manages the care and maintenance of the village’s trees.

Nyce, who plans to make a bench out of the stump still in the ground at the park, said he received between 15 and 20 responses from artists, and he was beginning to meet with them this week to divvy up the pieces of wood.

Javidi said he wants to make a table, but the design and final idea would be dictated by the wood. He said a lot would be determined when the pieces get opened up and he could see the natural pattern of the wood.

Seth Weizenecker, another furniture maker from North Carolina visiting to help Javidi with a project, said it’s always exciting to see a big tree trunk like that and imagine the possibilities - only to be surprised by the what you find when you open it up.

He speculated the wood could be worth something by some external signs of the figure of the wood inside -- depending on how it grew, it could show waves or small black circles, called bird’s eye, which is rare.

“It’s the genetics of the tree,” he said. “It’s like freckles in a person. It’s in their genetics. It’s a special feature.”

Nyce said he liked the idea of giving the wood to artists because of the care they would show for the historic part of the village.

“It’s a great way to show respect for the tree,” he said.

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