Volume 14, Issue 34 ~ August 24 - August 30, 2006

Fallen Art

In Quiet Waters’ enchanted woods, trees become dragons and tigers

by Matt Makowski

If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around, there are more important questions than whether or not it makes a sound. For Deborah Banker — sculpting instructor and sculptor for over 30 years in plaster, clay, stone and wood — a few choice alternatives come to mind. How long ago did it fall? Is there water damage? Is it rotting? What can I carve out of it?

A little over four years ago, Banker found a fallen red oak in the southwest portion of Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis and saw a dragon. To help others see it, too, she carved Spirit Dragon, which has since fallen under the shadow of weather and time.

Now Banker has led her sculpture students, who range from middle-schoolers to retirees — back into the woods. With the sponsorship of Friends of Quiet Waters Park, they’ve cleaned up Spirit Dragon so he’ll last, and have balanced his symbolic spirituality with the physicality of a tiger.

Their tools: Chainsaws, hand chisels, grinders, wood stain, mixers and a touch of technology.

On digital photographs of the tree, Banker sketched a menagerie of tigers. Her high-school students didn’t approve of her early sketch of a solemn tiger poised behind the dragon. It had to be scary, the kids said.

“They said the closed mouth was too Walt Disney,” Banker said.

Back at the drawing board, the class went online for more menacing pictures of tigers. A few sketches later it was time to set the wood flying.

Nobody worked on any single piece of the sculpture. Students bounced around from chiseling out a paw to grinding out a tooth in the tiger’s mouth. Keeping everybody moving both helped the piece flow and encouraged camaraderie by keeping the class from dissolving into individual worlds and works, Banker said.

“It’s really exciting to see it come to life,” Banker said.

Others had seen the tiger from the first.

“It’s a matter of seeing it there. That’s how you carve,” said Talitha Smith of Annapolis Area Christian School.

The class braved early wake-up calls, 90-degree heat, a little rain, flying wood chips and, toward the end, sore muscles, all in the name of art.

“When the chainsaws start flying, it gets pretty hairy around here,” said Annapolis High schooler Jonathan Chapman.

On the final day, six of the most dedicated students chiseled in the finishing touches. “Pass the liniment,” said Sylvia Stone-Kraemer halfway through.

“Right now I am working on the Ben Gay,” Banker said after the final coat of varnish was applied.

They’ve gone now, leaving behind a hardwood, multi-ton carving that’s a cross between a horizontal totem pole and a folk art rendition of Eastern harmony.

Find it by following the green dog paw signs toward the dog park. When you pass the dog park on the left, park your car in the lot to the right — or continue to ride your bike. Just past the last parking lot is a circle with trails radiating off into the woods. At the beginning of the path on the right lurks Spirit Dragon with Chasing Tiger.

Matt Makowski, of Annapolis, is a journalism graduate of Rutgers University. His last story for Bay Weekly was “A Tale of Two Writers … and one Would-be” (Vol. xiv, No. 30: July 27).

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