Draper’s Tree Carvings Enchant Passersby
If you look closely, you’ll spot Ol’ St. Nick, the Three Wise Men and Father Time residing in mulberry and elm trees along Fort Street.
“People either know they’re there or they don’t,” says Draper resident Michelle Shaw about the five bearded men (also known as tree spirits or green men) which have been carved into trees adjacent to her home.
For observant passersby, the carvings enchant or spook, but always make a good photo op. Children’s imaginations run wild. “Little kids wonder if the tree is magical or if the tree ate someone.” Her own five children were fearful of the trees as youngsters, but Shaw assured them that the faces were a protection.
Completed in the early 90s, they were crafted by master carver and Sandy resident David S. Paul. He teaches woodcarving skills in community education courses with Canyons School District.
“It is ancient, Medieval folklore,” says Paul about the faces. Trained by master woodcarvers in Germany, he has sculpted giant tree spirits throughout the valley. He carves what inspires him–mostly characters from the Brothers Grimm fairytales or European folklore. “I don’t do grizzly bears,” he notes.
Such carvings are not simply art, explains Paul, but have historical significance. Green men were a key element in pagan conversions to Christianity. Monks in the eighth and ninth centuries tried to entice pagans into their churches to no avail. It was only by bringing the carvings into monasteries as a pagan icon (the green man representing rebirth) that converts began to flock. The Cistercian monks sculpted green men into wooden beams and posts in early wooden churches throughout Europe.
Today, most European churches are made of stone; however, hidden somewhere in most, one can typically find a carving of green man in an obscure place near the rib vaults.
In his 45 years of sculpting, Paul has never lost a tree to his craft, but noted that the carvings themselves need maintenance. One carved tree on the Shaw’s property, “The Viking,” was cut down for safety reasons, but the family keeps the carving on a platform in their cabin.
Soon new homes will be built on the vacant lot where the old men dwell, but the trees will remain if all goes as planned. The Shaws plan to spotlight the carvings during the holidays and delight in the fact that Paul’s art can be enjoyed year round.
“We are known as the family with faces on their trees,” says Shaw. “That’s a good thing to be known for.”