A moving and lasting memorial to the First World War is currently being created in the park space in Derby Square, Douglas.
Wood carver and sculptor Gavin Carter has been hard at work over the past month transforming two dead chestnut trees into poppies, representing the flower’s transition from seed into full bloom and also, more poignantly, giant hands, signifying the hands of soldiers reaching up from the trenches and no-man’s land.
The opportunity to create a work of art came after Douglas Council tree surgeons were preparing to cut down two diseased chestnut trees in Derby Square park.
It was felt that after they had removed the dead branches from the trees, known as ‘pollarding’, what was left of the trees could be put to good use.
They got in touch with Gavin, who is a well-known local wood carver with pieces of work dotted all over the island, and the ideal for a war memorial was formed.
‘The first project was to carve some poppies on the larger of the two chestnut trees,’ said Gavin. ‘The plan was to have two poppy flowers, two poppy seed heads and two poppy buds.
‘It went very well in terms of public response. A lot of people have come out to the park specifically to say what a good idea it is and are really pleased that the parks department from Douglas Council have promoted this and commissioned it.
‘So they asked if I had any ideas for the second tree, which had to come down for safety reasons.
‘This one is a series of hands carved into the top of the pollarded limbs. It represents the hands that might have been seen in the trenches or in no-man’s land, from soldiers who are crying for help during the conflict. There might be five or six, depending on how sound the wood is when I start carving into it.’
Most of the sculptures have been hand carved using chisels and a mallet, although the initial cuts into the wood were made using a chainsaw.
Working in the park in relatively peaceful conditions has enabled Gavin to engage with park users and passers-by, who have stopped and taken notice of the work.
‘Using a chisel means I can stop and engage with people and there has been a lot of questions,’ he said. ‘What I’m doing, what it’s about, techniques, things like that.
‘Children as young as four or five, who have come in with their parents, or with older people perhaps involved with the Second World War who have memories of the conflict, have stopped and asked about the piece. It has been a very social activity.’
The finished pieces are striking and highly noticeable.
They are also quickly identifiable as some of Gavin’s creations, having rough hewn edges with chisel grooves and channels left in for effect, adding a real depth and texture to the finished sculptures.
It is hoped that the sculptures will be completed by the end of March, although one tree is already finished.
However, if you wish to go and watch Gavin at work – he will there on any dry day until then.