Using his trusty Husqvarna chainsaw, North Anson artist Josh Landry has carved everything from bears, birds and dogs, to salty old sea captains and cartoon characters out of tree stumps and logs. He’s been commissioned by homeowners, by cities across the country and by arts organizations to turn wood into art.
So when the latest people to commission him to make something got in touch, initially, it was no big deal — except for the fact that Landry would be carving a 5-foot-wide, 15-foot-tall ash tree stump on the front lawn of arguably the most famous home in Maine.
“I’ve done some pretty big jobs, but Tabitha and Stephen King are definitely one of the higher-profile ones,” said Landry, 33. “It’s a pretty special project.”
Landry will spend the next month or so carving a menagerie of creatures into the enormous ash tree stump at 47 West Broadway in Bangor, the home of Tabitha and Stephen King. While Landry is reluctant to say exactly what he’ll be carving over the next few weeks so as not to spoil the surprise, so far this week he’s carved an owl, a couple of ravens and a kingfisher.
“I think, as it starts to take shape, it’s really going to wow people,” he said. “It’s going to incorporate a lot of things. It’s really detailed. It’ll have lots more animals, birds, their pets. It was really a fun collaboration, to work with Tabitha on this design.”
Tabitha King said she was inspired by trees themselves, and their importance in our lives.
“Their substances give us shelter and furniture, and warmth in winter — cue joke about shade in the summer — and the paper from which we make books. They are homes for birds and insects and animals and food for fungi,” she said. “It is said that the dead tree gives no shelter. In reality the dead tree supports a wealth of life. That is what the sculpture will reveal.”
The Kings had to take down most of the ash tree, which Landry estimates is around 300 years old, after it became infested with insects; the stump is still rooted in the ground. Though Landry said the wood does have a few damaged spots, it’s nothing he can’t cut around and make work.
Tabitha King said she was sad to cut the tree, but saw potential in it as soon as it came down.
“It was heartbreaking to cut that tree — she was a grande dame of a tree, absolutely magnificent,” she said. “I had her cut high with the thought of a wood sculpture. I didn’t know what at the time, and it took quite a while to settle on an artist.”
Landry started doing chainsaw carving when he was 16. With blacksmiths, carpenters and other artists in his family, as well as loggers, the combination of visual art and physical labor appealed to him on multiple levels. Landry has competed in and several times won chainsaw sculpting competitions around the country, and has created sculptures all over New England and as far away as Tennessee.
Once the carving is done, Landry will finish the sculpture with airbrushing and oiling the wood to seal it. Then, it’ll become part of the landscape of the Kings’ West Broadway property, which the couple is slowly turning into a home for Stephen King’s archive, the offices for his and Tabitha’s foundation, and a writer’s retreat for visiting authors.
Alone atop the staging he’s set up around the stump — and behind the watchful eye of the bats sitting atop the Kings’ wrought-iron gate — he’s certainly within social distancing parameters, as mandated by the worldwide response to the coronavirus pandemic.
That hasn’t stopped passersby on the street from stopping and commenting, however. Though the Kings have taken great steps to keep the peace in their neighborhood, their iconic home nevertheless attracts Stephen King fans from all over the world — even during the pandemic.
“I feel like I’m far enough away to be able to talk to them safely,” Landry said. “It’s pretty quiet here, otherwise. But sometimes I see a lady in the window [of the house], and it freaks me out. Just as long as I don’t see any clowns, we’re good.”