It was another sticky summer day last week, but that didn’t keep artist Andrew Mallon from sculpting animals out of dead wood at the Cherry Hill playground.
His chainsaw buzzed on topped trees (trees with their tops removed) where he shaped raccoons, squirrels, foxes, owls and bunnies.
“This is a family park,” said Mallon, after he stopped his saw and climbed down from scaffolding to take a break and talk about his latest pet project. The humidity on the almost 100-degree day attracted sawdust particles which clung to his wet arms.
“We wanted to do animals,” he added. “The kind that you can find when you walk out your back door.” His park sculptures depict proud parents and their babes in the woods tucked around old tree trunks which sprout new life.
Daniel J. Schlitt, Falls Church’s director of recreation and parks, has long envisioned the concept. He and Jimmy Ruby, senior program supervisor who oversees the project, came out to check on Mallon’s progress which the artist promised would be finished within a week (barring hard rain).
To the unskilled, it seemed like an impossible time frame. Schlitt admires Mallon’s “very creative mind. He does things which would take me a lifetime to figure out. He does them in a few days.”
Schlitt pointed to the nearby “rope tree” as the likely stimulus for the new sculptures. The “rope” was started and left unfinished by a volunteer several years ago, and Clare Casey, Fall Church’s senior communications specialist, declared it one of the most recognizable and attention-getting trees in the City.
“We had a bunch of large, dead trees that we could either take out of the ground, and they would just disappear, or we could do something with them,” Schlitt said.
He met with the City’s urban forestry group and Andrew to come with some ideas.
For 95 percent of his work, Mallon uses one of several chainsaws, and for eyes and fine details, he uses small hand tools which are more dangerous.
“Knock on wood,” Mallon said, “I’ve never had an accident.”
If he makes a mistake, “I just change it a little bit. There’re always ways to interpret it so I just keep going with it, and it turns out all right. I try not to mess up.”
To complete a project, Mallon uses a blow torch to add color, depth and contrast, and he applies a sealer for protection.
A former Falls Church resident who now lives in Winchester, Mallon grew up in Arlington and graduated from Washington-Lee High School. He became a carpenter and remodeled homes in the area and Falls Church for several years, sharpening his hand carpentry skills.
Those led him to chainsaw art and a class in Pennsylvania where he learned how to carve a bear.
“Most of the animals at this point I’ve done enough that I know what they look like,” he explained, and he seldom needs to consult pictures. A child had asked him to make an alligator, he reported to the city officials standing nearby.
Mallon generally takes two to three days to complete a project. His clientele are often private residents who are looking to repurpose large oaks on their property that have aged to a point where their height presents a safety problem. Mallon’s most elaborate creation was a castle he carved out of a maple tree in Arlington, taking him about a week to complete. He even works year-round, unbothered by winter temperatures (“above 30”) which are easier conditions than sweltering heat.
“I just put on my headphones and go to work and have a blast,” as he smiled and gulped water from a flask.
Funding for the sculptures has been on Recs and Parks’ wait list for a while. Schlitt credited Ruby for pushing the idea to the front burner this year, rather than waiting until the end of the year to see if funds were available. (They weren’t in past years.)
The carvings will cost the city about $7,000, a price which just happens to match what William Blaisdell got for Cherry Hill Farm when he sold the house and its 66 acres in 1865.
Mallon carves people, too.
“We’ve loaded up our parks with a lot of memorial benches,” Schlitt said. “I’m thinking that if the urban forestry group has trees to top, someone might want to donate a tree sculpture somewhere” like Blaisdell on a tree at his former home place?
Recycling nature and making new from old, the Falls Church way.
At press time the city had no plans for an unveiling or ceremony to welcome the park’s new pets.
Find Mallon’s chainsaw art at www.amsculptures.com.