WELLINGTON, Ohio - Many tall trees that surround Saint Patrick Church in Wellington, Ohio, sway in the breeze. They have been there for decades, as has the parish priest, the Rev. James Reymann. Over his 36 years as the spiritual leader of the parish, Rev. Reymann, 88, has tended many of the tears, pruning them and watching them grow.
When one of the Ash trees died of disease, he could not let it go. When the limbs and branches were cut away by tree surgeons, all that remained was the trunk. It was then Rev. Reymann got the idea to have a statue carved into the tree trunk, which stands about 20 feet high. The tree trunk of the old ash is the subject of an unusual artist who is fashioning the remaining wood into a statue of Saint Patrick.
"Instead of just cutting the tree down, show its outer beauty," said woodcarver Bud Emerson, who works only with chain saws.
As the saw bites deeply into the wood, slowly emerging is a statue of Saint Patrick in vestments.
"You can park your cars over there," said Rev. Reymann, pointing to the church parking lot which is between the tree and the church building. "We will have Saint Patrick looking over the flock," he said, a broad smile gracing his face.
The two men work together on the big project, which may take a couple of weeks to complete. The priest gave the artist a small model of Saint Patrick. With the 8-inch model on his workbench, Emerson looks closely at the face of the model and then turns to the big tree trunk and duplicates what he sees.
The buzzing chainsaw draws attention from passersby, many of them parishioners at Saint Patrick Church.
"It looks beautiful," said Judy Hall. "He is going to protect our parish," she added, speaking of the statue which is facing the side door of the church.
When Rev. Reymann and Emerson meet, which is often throughout the day, they compare notes.
"How about the cheeks?" asked the priest of the artist. "Oh, we worked them down," responded Emerson, pointing to the face of the statue.
Every cut in the tree trunk of the ash, which was estimated to be at least 65 years old, is with the chain saws. Emerson has done this kind of work in many places, proudly displaying his portfolio which bulges with photographs of other chainsaw works. He said 16 years ago, he followed his heart into woodcarving, but had no money for the traditional tools.
"All I had was a chainsaw, so I began with that.," he said.
The statue is taking shape under the swaying boughs of other trees surrounding the church. The church bells toll on the hour, marking the time. The buzz of the chainsaw fills the air as the saw cuts deeply into the wood. At other times, Emerson trims away the wood in delicate fashion, touching it gently as it the saw were a paint brush.
The priest walks from the sanctuary to the parking lot and checks on the progress of the statue as, daily, it comes more to life. The face of the statue is strong. The vestments the artist is carving in the wood of the ash tree trunk appear smooth and flowing. They are similar to the vestments Rev. Reymann wears during mass in the church. He is paying for all of the work out of his own pocket. Rev. Reymann is passionate about that, declining to tell anyone the costs unless an individual wants to help cover the costs.
However for each man -- priest and artist -- the work is not about money. It is about the passion each feels toward his work and toward Saint Patrick.
"Wait 'til you see the beauty of the grain," said Emerson, pointing to the wood in the old tree trunk. "That's art in itself."
Of Saint Patrick, it is said he carried a walking stick which was made of wood from an ash tree. Now, Saint Patrick is coming to life from an ash tree. In Wellington, it is obvious the priest, the artist, and the statue all have grains which run deep.
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