In Galveston, Texas, New Life For Dead Trees

Donna Leibbert started a citizen-led tree committee to turn trees killed by hurricane Ike into sculptures. Six dead trees on Galveston, Texas, city property are scheduled to be transformed into art. Leibbert discusses the effort.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

When Hurricane Ike slammed into Galveston, Texas last September, the saltwater killed an estimated 40,000 trees - some of them 100-year-old live oaks planted after the great hurricane of 1900. Well, now, some of those dead trees are being carved into sculpture. It's an effort started by Donna Leibbert of Galveston's Citizen Tree Committee.

And, Ms. Leibbert, the first sculpture is underway right now. Why don't you tell us about it?

Ms. DONNA LEIBBERT (Citizen Tree Committee): It is a Dalmatian. It is - because the fire department can't have a live dog in the fire department - so this is our way of honoring our volunteer firemen and our city firemen and the people that took good care of us during the hurricane.

BLOCK: How big is this oak Dalmatian?

Ms. LEIBBERT: Approximately six feet.

BLOCK: Who's doing the carving?

Ms. LEIBBERT: The carving is being done by a gentleman by the name of James Phillips. He is from Clear Lake. He has graciously volunteered his time and his talent to help us get started with this project.

BLOCK: Ms. Leibbert, are the trees that are being carved still rooted in the ground? Or have they been…

Ms. LEIBBERT: Yes.

BLOCK: They are.

Ms. LEIBBERT: They're all attached.

BLOCK: It must have really transformed Galveston. I mean, obviously, Ike transformed Galveston in many, many ways. But the destruction of the trees and the tree canopy must be quite a shock.

Ms. LEIBBERT: Ed Macie, who is the Region 8 director of the U.S. Forest Service, called it the largest ecological tree disaster he's ever seen.

BLOCK: Really?

Ms. LEIBBERT: We really, literally, have no trees left on the most significantly damaged parts of the island.

BLOCK: And this, of course, doesn't bring them back. It turns them into something else.

Ms. LEIBBERT: It turns them into whimsy, makes people smile. We do have a great replanting program. We have master gardeners and some nature people that are working with us to come up with a great plan to replant Galveston to make it green again, but of course that takes time.

BLOCK: Would there be people, Ms. Leibbert, who would say, you know, take the money that you would spend for supplies and equipment and all the things it'll take to carve these dead trees into sculpture, take that instead and plant new trees?

Ms. LEIBBERT: They will, and they have. Yet, I do think that it's appropriate for us to have some trees carved, trees in people's yards that their grandparents planted or someone planted after the 1900 storm. This allows them to keep them a few years longer, to have some good, pleasant, fun memories instead of just, oh, that tree was dead in the storm.

BLOCK: Do you have friends there in Galveston who, you know, as destructive as the storm was, and obviously people were killed, they're just extremely emotional about the loss of their trees, too?

Ms. LEIBBERT: We all are emotional about the loss of our trees. I often say nobody's put their arms around their tree and cried about it more than I have - and it's dead. So, now I hope to make something positive out of it and be able to look out, sit on my porch and look out and see a tree that makes me smile.

BLOCK: Donna Leibbert of the Citizen Tree Committee in Galveston, Texas. Thank you very much.

Ms. LEIBBERT: Thank you.

BLOCK: The sculpting of Galveston's dead trees is one act of reuse. Here's another. Wood from some of the trees destroyed by Hurricane Ike is also going to be used to refurbish the world's only remaining wooden whaling ship. The Mystic, Connecticut Seaport Maritime Museum is hoping to haul six to eight truckloads of live oak from Galveston. Their goal: to make the 1841 whaling ship, Charles W. Morgan, seaworthy again.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.