When a cottonwood tree in front of East Dundee Library was struck by lightning in July, the easiest solution would have been to remove what was left and call it a day.
Library officials at the Fox River Valley Public Library District had another idea — maybe it could be turned into art.
“We decided to explore the idea of turning the tree into a sculpture that would add character and significance to our front yard,” said Kirstin Finneran, district public relations and outreach manager.
The final result was finalized this week. What was left of the tree is now a fox sitting atop a pile of books in front of the library branch at 555 Barrington Ave. A second fox sits among the books, made to look like their den.
Chris and Brianne Hubbart, who live in downstate Hillsboro, arrived Monday with the chainsaws and other tools needed to create art from raw wood.
“A fox with books was a natural design concept for us,” Finneran said of the design, which ties to both the library district’s name and its mission.
Brianne Hubbart said this is their third project featuring foxes since launching their carving business, Hubbart Wood, in 2015. It started when Chris felled trees on their property in order to receive a internet service and turned stumps into art.
Since then, the couple have traveled the country making woodcarvings, received invitations to work in England and Germany, met renowned carvers and established a studio and art gallery in their home. of Hillsboro, she said.
“We learn as we go,” Brianne said.
A notable project saw Chris working with fellow sculptor Mike Ayers from North Carolina at the Chaptacular Chainsaw Carving Bash in Georgia in 2019. The two created a wooden sculpture of Ray Charles seated in front of a grand piano.
Another memorable job was when they sculpted Bugs Bunny dressed as a magician pulling Looney Tunes host Chuck Jones out of a hat, whose story can be viewed on YouTube and included the couple’s three children who participated in the project.
What made the East Dundee library job difficult, Chris said, were the angle cuts he had to make to shape the two animals. Chainsaw kickback is possible and makes it dangerous, he said.
He also had to make sure the sculpted animal bodies would have the same proportions as real foxes, he said. Brianne does the necessary intricate detail work, such as creating the animals’ eyes, claws and noses.
The tree used dates back to 1976, when the library was built, Finneran said. It was reduced to about six feet after lightning and had a circumference of about 10 feet.
“The sculpture is a parting gift from the Friends of Fox River Valley Libraries. The group disbanded this summer after many years of fundraising and support,” Finneran said.
It was exciting to see the sculpture emerge from a tree that had watched over the library for so long, she said.
“Chris and Brianne are so talented. It was a pleasure getting to know them, and we are grateful to them for coming here and creating a piece that fits so perfectly into the aesthetic of our community,” said said Finneran.
“Many residents stopped by to check on what was going on, and the smiles we saw show us that this will be a treasured landmark for years to come.”
Mike Danahey is a freelance writer for The Courier-News.