A mass of warm, humid air rose and collided against a wall of higher, cooler air. The air masses wrestled in the lower atmosphere, whirled into a vortex, tilted upward and gave birth to a violent tornado. The twister ripped across Stringer's Ridge toppling trees like dominoes and snapping the trunks of grand hardwoods as if they were No. 2 pencils. Within 60 seconds, the peaceful, treefilled landscape of the ridgeline was torn asunder.
"It was disturbing to see the devastation left behind on Stringer's Ridge," explains Randy Whorton, executive director of Wild Trails, an organization that promotes the use, expansion and protection of trails in the greater Chattanooga area. "Beautiful, old trees were down everywhere. It was such a waste."
But standing amid the felled hardwoods, Whorton hatched an innovative idea - an idea combining nature and art. He pondered reclaiming some of the timber and commissioning woodworkers, carvers, furniture makers and sculptors to transform the raw wood into magnificent pieces of log art.
Log art - also known as raw wood art, trail art and tree sculptures - is gaining popularity throughout the nation. Indeed, the Internet brims with images of whimsical carvings of owls, eagles, bears, totems and mythological creatures sculpted by skilled artisans with chainsaws, chisels and planes.
Organizers are looking for 10 artists to participate in the Wild Trails Stump Art Show.
"We'd like the exhibition to draw artists and craftsmen who have the ability to work with large pieces of raw wood," notes Anne Willson, executive director of Chattanooga's Association for Visual Arts. "We are looking for artists who can see and further the beauty of their starting material and are inspired by the opportunity to create on site or have their work sited in the woods." To be considered, artists and craftsmen must submit a brief bio and digital examples of their work to the AVA offices by 5 p.m. on June 29.
Whorton's idea to use the wood to make art soon evolved into a grand outdoor art exhibition - the Wild Trails Stump Art Show - involving a partnership between Wild Trails, the Association for Visual Arts and RiverRocks.
"We are looking for 10 artists and craftsmen who see the inherent beauty of these large pieces of raw wood and are willing and able to create works of art from the salvaged stumps and trunks by the middle of August," he says. "We've posted a detailed call for work for applicants on both the RiverRocks and AVA websites."
In September, finished pieces will be positioned near the overlook on Stringer's Ridge. "We want the public to hike, bike or run up there and take a look," says Whorton. "We hope the trail art will attract people who don't normally frequent parks, trails and wild spaces to the ridge for a pleasant, positive experience."
The placement of the wooden works of art along the ridgeline will also garner the attention of active, outdoor enthusiasts who have never set foot in an art gallery, perhaps cultivating a new breed of nature art lovers.
"Taking art out of the more traditional site of a gallery or museum and siting it where the material originates opens up the whole experience - from those who make the art to those who handle it to those who view it," describes Anne Willson, executive director of AVA. "We in Chattanooga value our natural surroundings and we embrace, even thrive upon, creative opportunity."
After perusing the art embellishing the ridgeline path, visitors to the Wild Trails Stump Art Show can vote for their favorite piece by visiting RiverRocksChattanooga.com. Then, in October, the pieces will be moved to Coolidge Park to complement the RiverRocks festival.
"All 10 artists will receive $200 for participating in the outdoor exhibit, not to mention a lot of publicity andexposure," says Carla Pritchard, president of Chattanooga Presents, which manages and produces RiverRocks. "We will also award a special prize to the artist of the work receiving the most votes."
The pieces will be auctioned off on the last Saturday of the festival and the proceeds of each sale will be divided evenly between the artist, AVA and RiverRocks. "It's a perfect fit for us," Pritchard adds. "RiverRocks celebrates Chattanooga's natural resources and helps raise money and awareness for eight local land trusts and conservancies. We are proud to be part of a project that inspires people who love artistic creations, as well as naturalists and outdoor athletes."
The Wild Trails Stump Art Show will breathe new life into the wasted wood of Stringer's Ridge and through 10 pieces of art, the trees will live again.