Student-led ‘Splinters Project’ transforming fallen trees into art to benefit derecho recovery

MARION, Iowa (KCRG) – Just steps from Marion’s City Square Park, where a branch still pokes through the tattered roof of the old railroad depot, damaged in the Aug. 10 derecho, chainsaws buzz new life into loss.

Starting over the weekend through Friday, Nov. 20, artists are transforming trees felled by the storm into bears, cardinals, eagles, and other art as part of the Iowa BIG Splinters Project.

“Each one of these trees could represent that it could be your tree because these all came from the pile. We don’t know exactly who had them in their yard or in their neighborhood, so they could represent your tree, and that just brings the community back together,” Leah Ahlers, a senior at Linn-Mar High School, said.

Ahlers came up with the idea for the Splinters Project and brought in five other students execute it for their work with Iowa BIG, an organization that teaches students skills through projects and work with community partners.

“Learning real-life things that we wouldn’t learn in regular school,” Iowa BIG student Ella Schultz explained.

“I’d say we’re building a community while also preparing for our future,” added Lexi King, also a Linn-Mar senior.

For these students, building their community in 2020 also means rebuilding their community after the derecho.

“We just saw everybody come together right after that storm,” King said. “You could drive downtown and see anybody just getting out of their cars to help a neighbor, so we just wanted to keep that energy going in our community.”

The students partnered with the City of Marion and its Parks & Recreation Department to bring about 60 logs to Marion Square for four chainsaw artists to work with.

The artists are all from Iowa, including Clint Henik of Mount Vernon and Anthony Martin, a Marion High School graduate who now lives in Meservey, Iowa.

“For me, doing this is therapeutic,” Martin said. “I’m a wounded warrior — I got wounded in action in 2010, so by me doing this and putting art out into the community, helps with coping and with everything else I have struggled with.”

They hope their art can help their community cope and recover, too.

“Since we ended up losing like over 65% of the trees in the area, this is just one good way we can salvage them and bring some life back and make some artifacts out of them that many people can enjoy,” Henik said.

Henik, Martin, and the other artists will be at work in Marion Square every day through Friday, and people are welcomed to come out and watch them. The students request everyone who does so wear a mask.

“It’s been more people than we expected with the weather, so that’s been great to see so many community members just come here and see everything,” Iowa BIG student Lindsay Radack said.

All the finished carvings will be up for bid in an online auction through the website 32auctions from Nov. 23 to Nov. 29.

The Iowa BIG students said their goal is to raise at least $6,000, with 40% of the money going to the artists themselves and the other 60% benefiting the organization Trees Forever.

“To replant new trees and hopefully bring everything back to normal,” student Emma Gerlach said.

Copyright 2020 KCRG. All rights reserved.

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