Lore Christopher (left) celebrates as David Hillesland speaks at the Keizer Public Arts Commission meeting  March 22. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)

Lore Christopher (left) celebrates as David Hillesland speaks at the Keizer Public Arts Commission meeting March 22. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)

Of the Keizertimes

Is David Hillesland the Tree Whisperer?

Last month the chainsaw artist from Lyons was driving past the Keizer Civic Center when he saw the two bare trees, which are scheduled to be decorated as story poles next year as envisioned by members of the Keizer Public Arts Commission.

“Those two stumps were yelling at me,” Hillesland told KPAC members at their meeting on Tuesday.

As she did last month, KPAC member Lore Christopher took credit for the trees still being up.

“You have me to thank, David,” Christopher said. “I had to fight my limbs for that.”

Hillesland said he gave up a banking job seven years ago during the throes of the recession and started whittling on wood. Then he ran into a chainsaw artist, who showed him how to do art with wood. Thus began a new business, All Natural Edge Designs.

“I do work based on scale and budget,” Hillesland said.

As one example, Hillesland recently carved a piece for an agency in Eugene with 1.5 children in a tree, with that number selected because that fit the agency’s budget.

Hillesland said he can provide detailed blueprints for his work and knows how to both prepare wood for work and how to make it last, which can include annual touch-up work.

“I have a track record for providing work on time and on budget,” he said. “Before I started this, I couldn’t even do a stick figure drawing. I’ve got the business training as well. When I drove by and saw the trees, they were screaming at me.”

Upon hearing that, Christopher started dancing around for the second month in a row and then explained the background of the story poles project.

“Both trees are old growth timber, which have been on the property for hundreds of years,” Christopher said. “We hoped to save them when we built this building, but the roots got disheveled. Bill Lawyer (Public Works director) had the idea of letting the trees have a place, have them carved and make them part of the civic center complex. One is about 20 feet tall, one is 25 feet. Others wanted them to be cut down, but I fought to keep them up.”

The plan is for one tree to be done by a Native American group, with the other a public art design. Christopher asked Hillesland if the Grand Ronde tribe could provide a design and he could carve the design.

“Absolutely,” he responded. “If they want to collaborate, I’m totally willing to do that. They would get to put their thumbprint on the design.”

Hillesland also said working with community members on the second tree is fine with him.

“That is very comfortable to me,” he said. “I’m really comfortable with the whole diplomatic process. I’m comfortable being in front of cameras. I can be the person to get the whole community involved.”

Hillesland estimated the bigger trees is 32 to 34 inches in diameter, while the smaller one has a diameter of about 28 inches. He typically charges about $500 a foot for his work but can be flexible. If work isn’t being done until sometime next year, he suggested spraying the tree with bug spray and putting tar on the top.

“I’ve done all aspects of all of this,” he said.

Christopher loved it all.

“You are our MVP for the day,” she told Hillesland.

Christopher also suggested Hillesland could have some of his work be public art along River Road.

“If you’re interested, submit it to us,” she said. “If you’re accepted, we’ll pick a spot for you. It might give you additional business.”