Local artist turns fallen cottonwood into a point of pride at renovated school
Students and staff welcomed a new face to Louisville Middle School this week. A 15-foot wooden sculpture of pirate will now greet people as they come to the recently renovated school on Main Street in Louisville.
For weeks, students and Louisville residents alike have watched as a fallen tree near the school’s parking lot has been transformed into the beautiful sculpture of the school’s mascot.
“It has been really cool that all of this carving has been going on during school. They have seen the evolution of this from a tree trunk to a rectangle and then as it has taken shape,” said Louisville Middle School Principal Ginny Vidulich. “It has certainly been a conversation piece in Louisville.”
“I had two ladies came by and said, ‘we used to go to this school.’ They probably went here 50 years ago and had come by to see [the tree],” said Bongo Love, the local artist who carved the sculpture. “They told me all the stories about what it was like then. How small the school was. I got to learn the history.”
A late-spring snowstorm last May badly damaged the tree. Arborists were brought in to take a look, but the tree could not be saved.
“I was heartbroken. That tree has been here since the very inception of the school,” Vidulich said. “I wanted to turn around and do something with it, in order to keep it alive in a way; to keep it a part of the heritage of our building.”
The school was built in 1939 and originally served the Louisville community as a high school. Recently, the building has been refurbished, utilizing bond-funded from the Building for Student Success program, approved by voters in 2014.\
Curt Cheesman, owner of Longmont-based Creative Carvings, which was commissioned to salvage the trunk, says the timing of the sculpture’s unveiling couldn’t have been better.
“It marks the completion of the beautiful renovation of Louisville Middle School,” Cheesman said. “The bond money has done some amazing things in Boulder County. It was voted on by the people to make these upgrades to this school, for our future and our kids.”
On Thursday, September 14, students and staff gathered outside of the school during each lunch period to see the finished sculpture and for an opportunity to ask their questions.
“They had great questions. They had better questions than the adults,” said Cheesman. “One of the students had a great question about the pirate’s hat. He asked, ‘What happens with the water that builds up there?’ It was spot on. If you go back there, there are four holes to let it drain.”
The sculpture was carved by Love using a chainsaw.
“Chainsaws cut fast, but it takes more time to think about it,” Love said. “In the beginning I don’t know what will come out of it. I have an idea, but sometimes you don’t know what will really come out. This piece came out very, very good.”
Love started carving stone at a young age, following the example of those in his village in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). He says that chainsaw carving is a dying art, but he hopes that perhaps his work at Louisville Middle School will inspire a new generation of artists.
“I hope some kids take over for me and keep on going. I hope I inspired someone today,” Love said.
The pirate sculpture is protected with several layers of boat-strength varnish and Cheesman says with proper care the sculpture should last many, many generations.
“We were really excited to bring this tree back to life,” Cheesman said. “It represents all the different generations that have come through here and have seen this tree. How many people have walked by this tree for so many generations? Now it will represent a new future for this tree, for this school and for this town.”