Sculptor Roger Wing carved the remains of a tree on Shawnee Street into one of his signature sculptures. The 100-year-old tree had to be removed earlier this year. (Photo by DB Fromm)

By DB Fromm

When Beth Eames (pronounced “Aims”), a Harvard Business School leadership consultant, learned the roughly 100-year-old old sugar maple in her front yard on the 8300 block of Shawnee Street had died, she sought a way to honor and memorialize the beloved tree. Searching online, she found the Powelton Village sculptor Roger Wing. 

Wing, a native of Columbus, Ohio, came to Philadelphia to attend the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts over 20 years ago, fell in love with the city and never left. He works on woodcarving commissions and competes in ice and sand sculpture both locally and abroad. Notable tree stump works of his include the statue of Reverend George Duffield (chaplain to George Washington’s Continental Army) at Old Pine Presbyterian Church in Center City, and a pair of giraffes on Righters Mill Road in Penn Valley.

Wing and Eames initially consulted during the tree’s dismantlement and decided to leave a 12- foot stump for carving. Eames requested flowers, being uplifting and more akin to the tree than an animal or human likeness.

In turn, Wing sketched a design: sunflowers and climbing roses modeled on those found in British heraldry. The flowers are adorned with a lepidopteran, captured in pollinating flight evoking life’s interconnected cycles. Wing then departed for a commission in Germany but returned early when borders were closed in response to the pandemic. He started work as soon as the lockdown permitted.

Over roughly two weeks, the artist worked with mallet and chisel, as well as a blowtorch to darken areas for depth and contrast. He also excavated a sizable nook near the base. Convex from the inside, he added a hidden tunnel like viewing burrow through the back. Framed at the top by a slightly irregular arch as if naturally occurring, the hollow is intended for children’s contemplation and wonder.

This “imagination station,” inspired by Wing’s youthful memories of exploring tree cavities, invites children and those of suitable stature to contemplate inside. The piece was finished with Australian timber oil, protecting and highlighting its grain.

“Wood is my favorite medium,” he said in an interview. “You can see the lifespan of the tree in its grain.” Throughout the process, passersby (including your correspondent’s mother) observed with anticipation and awe. 

According to Eames, the public has continued to vocalize its positive reaction since the piece’s completion. From her front porch or coming and going, “every single person stopping by” has compliments, questions, and thanks to offer.

“The amount of joy this is bringing to the neighborhood was unanticipated,” she said, “filling my heart with glee during this challenging time.” 

Chronically underfunded in normal times, Philadelphia’s pandemic budget slashed funding for the arts by 40%, eliminating The Greater Philadelphia Film Office, Historic Philadelphia and The Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy. The latter left Philadelphia as perhaps the only major U.S. city without a dedicated public bureau for arts coordination, according to The New York Times, citing the national advocacy organization Americans for the Arts. As a city known for its thriving artistic community, museums, and public art like murals and sculpture, such private initiative is particularly needed now. It was a reality of which Eames was well aware.

“We need art in our lives, and I was thrilled to be able to support that,” she said.

Eames is seeking suggestions to name the sculpture, and to install a plaque crediting Wing. Submissions can be sent to betheames1@yahoo.com. Samples from Wing’s portfolio and his contact information can be found at www.rogerwing.com.

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