Artists will fashion works from felled trees at Homewood Cemetery
August 15, 2013 4:00 AM
Kenn Thomas is an artist who organized an art show to benefit Homewood Cemetery's tree maintenance efforts.
By Diana Nelson Jones Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When the Homewood Cemetery opened in 1878, its earliest trees went into the ground with its first caskets, and some of those trees are still alive.
After receiving a tip about oak wilt two years ago, administrators began to assess the condition of the property's trees and had 47 removed, two with oak wilt, a number of blighted pines and others in various stages of disease.
"I thought it would be neat to create memorials out of some of the wood," said Gary Frink, general manager of the cemetery. "Then Kenn Thomas came in and asked if we had any extra wood to make into art."
Mr. Thomas, a wood sculptor from Homewood, was at a grave-side service when he saw trees being felled.
Together, the two men came up with an event to celebrate the cemetery's Founders Day this Saturday -- an art show fund-raiser featuring wood from the felled trees. Dubbed "reGenerations," the show, from 2 to 5 p.m., will feature live jazz, food, the art sale and a silent auction on the grounds at 1599 S. Dallas Ave., Squirrel Hill.
Six artists -- Mr. Thomas, Peter Johnson, Robert Bishop, David Pearson, Earl Johnson, and Edric Florence -- will exhibit cemetery tree art and furniture and other items for sale from their collections.
Guglielmo Botter, an artist and architect, will show and sell drawings he has made of Pittsburgh and the Homewood Cemetery. Mr. Botter, whose mother lived in Pittsburgh during the 1950s and '60s, was born in Italy but is an American citizen. He has returned with his family hoping to make a life here "as a gift to my mother," he said. "She always told me to try to make your way in the USA."
Mr. Thomas makes his living as an art management consultant and works on wood sculpture in his basement. He organized the show, out of which grew a branch -- a public art project. Some of the wood has been used to sculpt 15 colorful, oversized mushrooms that the cemetery hopes to sell to East End merchants.
Merchants who buy them will be contributing to the cemetery's historical fund.
"Mushrooms are symbols of regeneration," said Mr. Thomas, who made them. "It is also a classic chain saw art image."
The mushrooms range from two feet to four feet tall and are made from red oak, silver maple, cherry and burly elm, he said. The administration doesn't have a fund-raising goal, Mr. Frink said. "Since this is the first year, we're just trying to let people know what is going on, to make them aware."
A tree inventory is one of the priorities to come out of the historical fund, with a maintenance plan and arboretum guide for public tours to follow, he said.
The Homewood Cemetery and Allegheny Cemetery in Lawrenceville share a board and resources. Allegheny has a completed tree inventory, Mr. Frink said.
Founders Day is celebrated on the date of the first burial in Homewood Cemetery, Aug. 17, 1878, on 170 acres of the former Judge William Wilkins' 700-acre estate. The majority of trees were planted either at that time or in the 1920s and '30s, said Marilyn Evert, the cemetery's historian.
She said the property is old enough for its tree collection to be considered an arboretum and a possible destination for people interested in tours.
Mr. Frink said the cemetery will plant trees in various stages from now on and has planted 105 since removing the 47 last year.
The board hired Ashley Allen to do its tree inventory. She is a student arborist who began working for the cemetery mowing the grass. She said she plans to take the test to be certified later this year.
Her inventory will list every tree on the property, its health condition, age and location. She said she has counted between 10 and 20 species so far.