The new wooden sculpture that sits in the place of what use to be a significant tree, now symbolizes not only that the memory of the tree still lives on, but also SFA’s school spirit.
Previous arborist, Allen Ross, sparked the conversation to make a wooden monument that now sits between the Austin and Rusk building. Ross, now retired, came up with the idea to replace the symbolic tree that was on campus possibly when the University was founded. The idea of this sculpture came back to the makers, only to make it bigger and better.
A 15-foot stump was all that remained of the tree then.
There were many things to consider before making the sculpture, such as, is the tree stump sturdy enough to be worked into a sculpture? There were many unforeseen circumstances that had to be taken into consideration as well. Since the weather in Nacogdoches is often rainy, the tree stump had water in it, so the sculptors of the stump actually had to let the water out before doing any work to the tree.
They also had to consider if the tree was strong enough to endure chain saws and other tools. Since the sculpture sits on the original tree stump, there was no way they could start over if they messed up.
After evaluating if it was safe and after the administration approved the possible new addition to campus, the process began.
Stina Herrera, coordinator of transportation and special services, was one of the people who worked over the Christmas break. She helped design and sculpt the large SFA monument outside of the Rusk Building, all while having a broken hand.
“The smaller SFA sculpture is by the Austin building and we know how popular that is, so we just thought that having the SFA initials would be something that would be attention-grabbing, popular for photographs and would be easily recognizable,” Herrera said.
Once a student herself, Herrera reflects on the tree and the value it contributed to campus.
“For me, the tree that we carved had sentimental value. When I was a student here, the arms of the tree stretched out, went over the slope and the stairs and I remember that beam providing shade. Iwassadwhenwehadto cut it down. As large as it is and as many rings as it has, it very well could have been here when the University was established,” Herrera said.
Gary Williams, grounds manager to the University since July 1997, explained that if an aging tree is cut for any reason, the department tries to get permission to conserve the stump.
“There are two trees that are extremely valuable to campus. There is one by the music building and one between Austin and Rusk. The age itself makes it very valuable,” Williams said.
As grounds manager, the conservation of trees is important to keeping the campus beautiful.
“The trees, the landscape, the forest, represents East Texas. That’s our most valuable attraction. I’ve been to universities in cities and there are no trees. We try to take that into consideration,” he continued.
“It’s so neat to see the sculpture and see people enjoy it. Whenever I see people taking pictures in front of it, it feels like I'm in it even though I'm not," Herrera said.
“They’ll have those pictures forever. It’s just a process that everyone is involved in from up to down, and we have to have the right people to finish it off and put detail and time. We took a lot of pride in this thing, and it really shows, because it’s an awesome piece of work,” Williams said.
Stina is also an art teacher on campus. She teaches how to make small pieces of jewelry. “I only make little tiny things. My art is small. I’ve never made anything that remotely big. This signifies a big leap to uncharted territory,” she said.
A major thing that Williams would like the public to know is that the conservation of trees is very important.
“You can see the tree [the SFA sculpture now], there is a dark split. We reinforced it, but if people climb on it, the wood gets weathered over time and it could break,” Herrera said.
Chris Dempsey, arborist and a graduate student in the Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture, also assisted in sculpting.
“I’m glad that I was able to be a part of it. It’s exciting. I’m prideful that I was able to create something that people will take photos in front of for graduation or any events. It’s a good picture point,” he said.
“Unfortunately, hinges on trees dying, but it’s good that something was able to be done with the stump. This one was almost an issue because it started rotting from the outside in, so we had to adjust where we put the letters to get out of that,” Dempsey said.
“That’s why we needed him there. I didn’t know any of that [tree’s condition]. I was asking him questions the whole time,” Herrera said.