Dead tree comes back to life in Butchers Hill

Written by on August 20, 2014 in Featured - No comments
On Friday, Aug. 17, Mark Supik crowned the sculpture with the fi nal piece, to the delight of friends and neighbors. - Photo by Joe Nash

On Friday, Aug. 17, Mark Supik crowned the sculpture with the final piece, to the delight of friends and neighbors. – Photo by Joe Nash

The sculpture is made up of 14 individual pieces taken from a 12-inch white pine. - Photo by Joe Nash

The sculpture is made up of 14 individual pieces taken from a 12-inch white pine. – Photo by Joe Nash

Photo by Joe Nash

Photo by Joe Nash

Not ones for conversation, white pines only whisper when a breeze ruffles their soft needles, so who knows what they’re thinking?

They might see nothing or everything, and what’s the difference?

Maybe the tree that grew in tranquility in Anne Arundel County knew that it would end up in a tree pit on Baltimore City’s E. Pratt St., igniting conversations between strangers and attracting a sizable crowd on its coronation day.

The tree has begun its second life (that we know of) as a vertical art installation in front of Mark and Nancy Supik’s home on the 2200 block of E. Pratt, near Patterson Park.

The Supiks explain the process in a series of pictorial blog posts at emptytreepit.blogspot.com. Mark cut the 12-inch-diameter fallen tree into blanks, drilled center holes, and used his Oliver lathe to turn each piece into a new shape, which he painted and varnished.

Rather than assemble the sculpture all at once, Mark had been adding a piece at a time over the past few weeks, attracting more attention each time, especially when the sculpture climbed above the roofs of parked cars and became visible from the street.

“We’ve met so many neighbors that we didn’t know,” says Nancy. “It’s just been a great thing for our block.”

The piece is bolted into the stump of an oak tree, planted by the Supiks and neighbors 25 years ago, which, according to the blog “provided shade, privacy and a home for birds in front of our house.” The oak died in 2012, but its stump is now joined with the white pine, at least until the Supiks plant a new, living tree in the pit.

“It’s not really permanent,” says Nancy of the sculpture. “It’s going to have a life.”

“It’s an experiment,” elaborates Mark. “We’re wondering if someone will steal it, pee on it, hit it with a car…”

He believes that the second has probably already happened, but it didn’t quell the fanfare—a gathering of friends, neighbors and colleagues—when the sculpture was topped with the 14th and final piece last Friday.

Supik, who graduated from Maryland Institute College of Art with a degree in sculpture, opened his shop in 1981, at first taking on “anything that came in the door,” and eventually focusing on “turning,” the art of shaping wood on a spinning lathe. It also allowed him to spend his time in his own shop, which he enjoys.

Today, Mark Supik & Co. Woodturning and Beer Tap Handles, 1 N. Haven St., employs eight and splits the business between architectural turning and, obviously, wooden beer tap handles, which are in use all over the country.

He notes that tap handles can have a strong influence on drinkers’ decisions, a fact lost on some barkeeps until the phrase “I want the one with the cow on it” switches on the light bulb.

Supik says that he turns wood “for fun” when he’s not making architectural pieces, tap handles, or teaching woodturning classes. Out of that pastime came the Empty Tree Pit Project.

A fair bit of his work explores a connection to not just the wood but individual trees. Several years ago, a tree came down on Baylis St. in Highlandtown. A woman had raised her family in the shade of that being, and she brought the pieces to Mark.

“She said, ‘Whatever you can make of it, I just want to have something to give myself.”

Supik & Co. fashioned bowls, utensils, wine stoppers and knitting implements from the wood.

“She came in here and she was literally in tears,” Mark says. “It was touching for us.”

Editor’s note: Photos for this article were generously provided by Joe Nash, a Butchers Hill resident. See more of his work at jnash.smugmug.com/Joe.

by Erik Zygmont
editor@baltimoreguide.com

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