Years in the making, this beautiful sculpture honors a centuries-old oak felled by Hurricane Irma
For Jeff and June Flowers, the loss of a cherished, towering tree at their business has been transformed into a lasting symbol of friendship, art, and music.
In September 2017, the potent force of Hurricane Irma took down a 200-plus-year-old double oak tree that had stood majestically in the parking lot of Flowers Chemical Laboratories (FCL), an environmental testing company in Altamonte Springs.
When artist Butch Charlan saw the fallen tree, he came up with a creative way to salvage part of it for his good friend, Jeff. Butch, an architect and sculptor, told Jeff to save a few large chunks of the wood and let the pieces cure for a couple of years. Then, Butch would use the remnants to craft a sculpture for Jeff.
“The tree was laid out like a head of lettuce broken open,” Butch recalls. “It was devastating.”
At first, Butch wasn’t sure what to craft out of the oak wood, a medium he had never worked with before. But then an idea struck him: He would sculpt a statue combining a corseted female form with the shape of the viola, which Jeff plays.
In addition to being president and technical director of Flowers Chemical Laboratories, Jeff is founder and president of Performing Arts Matter (PAM), a nonprofit arts and culture organization. And, he is principal violist for the Maitland Symphony Orchestra and the Baroque Chamber Orchestra, which operate under the auspices of PAM, formerly known as Performing Arts of Maitland.
With the wood fully cured, Butch began sculpting the piece this spring and worked on the project for several months. The result, an elegant statue titled Viola the Muse, was revealed on July 3 at FCL. The sculpture will remain on display there until summer’s end, when it will be moved to Jeff and June’s home.
Throughout the sculpting process, Butch received help from Longwood artist Maureen Williams and her husband, Russel. Maureen is an accomplished wood sculptor, and Russel is quite handy with a chainsaw. Russel cut down the 300-pound chunk of wood selected for the project to a more manageable 80 pounds, and Maureen mentored Butch along the way.
For Butch, the artistic journey is more important than the finished work... Usually, that is.
“But when this was done, I did not want to hand it over,” he joked at the sculpture unveiling.
“The tree was this fantastic structure,” Jeff says. “The statue celebrates not only the tree that we’ve lost, but the beauty of the female form, and the viola. Everything is in this one piece.”
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