Lindley Park’s Tree Totem
Have you been to Lindley Park yet this fall? Located behind the Bozeman Public Library, and site of Bozeman’s annual Sweet Pea Festival of the Arts, the park has a unique new feature: the Festival’s Tree Totem. Kris Conners with Custom Sculpture, and his nephew, Josiah Macica with Pine Ridge Carving, are the chainsaw wood carving duo from the east coast that flew out to Montana to erect the Totem, bringing a 2022 storm-damaged tree into another life from its ruined past.
Kris and Josiah heard about the Lindley Tree Project (co-sponsored by Sweet Pea Festival of the Arts and Friends of Parks Bozeman) by way of Kris’s sister, who is also Josiah’s mother. She often scopes out opportunities for both men, and encourages them to submit a design and apply. With her keen eye for a good project, Kris submitted a design and asked Josiah to be a part of this special effort.
But it goes way back! Josiah’s family makes musical instruments, so, involved from a young age, he developed a strong sense of design, craftsmanship, and visual art balance, combined with functionality and efficiency. Kris has always had a craftsman’s heart, but after seeing chainsaw wood carving at a fair, he decided to expand his talents, and so discovered his life’s work. With all these commonalities, they had not formally worked together on a project until this Montana storm-damaged tree called their names all the way from Bozeman to the east coast. There was, however, an honorably-mentioned bear carving that Josiah worked on as a three year old with his Uncle Kris.
Hailing from a small town in Virginia, Kris started his sketch for the Tree Totem in the spring of 2023. He wanted to make sure the design was interesting from all points of view, with much to be explored each time viewers circled the final piece. He also wanted the creatures within the design to make lifelike sense to the viewer (i.e., the eagle is flying on top, while the trout swims at the base). Kris feels blessed with his abilities because, in the world of chainsaw carving, one can either be capable of carving just one or two specific animals, or have the ability to carve anything—and Kris happens to have the latter gift. As if by happenstance, his nephew Josiah is similarly talented. With that, they knew they would be able to tackle this project with fluid artisanship, along with hard work and long hours.
The dedication Josiah and Kris brought is awe-inspiring. Kris flew from Virginia, and Josiah from New York, loading up material on the plane. They weren’t able to bring the chainsaws on board, as you can imagine, so they purchased new chainsaws in Montana. They worked eight-hour days for eight days straight. At night, they would enjoy the bars in downtown Bozeman, and the jaw-dropping beauty of the Big Sky canyon. On the first day working on the project, they approached the tree and noticed that a very large portion of it needed to be removed due to rot damage. It would not sustain carving well, and could compromise the whole design. Arboriculture is the tedious and technical practice of analyzing the health of a tree to ensure its longevity and health. Tree carvers are not synonymous with arborists, as they are typically not as familiar with the needs of the tree.
Still, when Josiah and Kris were considering the health and nature of the storm-damaged tree intended for this project, they became concerned that they would need an arborist’s evaluation; thoughts of finding the right arborist who could come assess the tree within the week came to mind, causing them stress. Suddenly, a man stood behind the duo, seeming to assess the tree; he suggested they saw off the problem area. He just so happened to be an arborist! It was one of those happy accidents that stay with us through life. Kris and Josiah’s new friend ended up being a kind Montana host for them during their stay, and reminds us as Montanans to always welcome weary travelers with a good spirit.
As we spoke in late September, Kris was recalling the project with ultimate gratitude for his family. He mentions how lucky he is to have a family thatwould show him a career-defining endeavor like The Lindley Tree Project, and how fortunate he was to witness the carving talent of his up-and-coming nephew, Josiah. Kris and Josiah agree that they were somehow blessed with the same gift, and a similar eye for design, making this reformed 16-foot spruce stump the opportunity of a lifetime.
Josiah and Kris want the people of Bozeman, of Montana, and those visiting to ‘enjoy the beauty of the state,’ and go explore! Can you find the honorary Sweet Pea flower in the tree carving next time you visit Lindley Park?
You can find more of Kris Conner’s work on instagram at @customsculpture, or at https://customwoodcarvings.com.
You can find Josiah Macica’s work on instagram at: @pineridgecarvings.