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Chainsaw artist Rob Banda carves a tree trunk on the Denton campus into the shape of TWU's mascot. (Photos by Michael Modecki)

Tree trunk takes on shape of Texas Barn Owl

During construction of the soccer and intramural fields on TWU’s former golf course, Facilities Management & Construction workers took great effort to protect the mature post oak trees that lined the west side of the fields.

“We even had to make revisions to the master plan so we could adjust the proposed field locations and protect the trees,” said Timothy Wentrcek, assistant director of building maintenance.

Despite their best efforts, a tree at the entrance to the soccer field became infected with the hypoxylon canker fungus and did not survive. Though disappointed, Wentrcek said, the FMC team had an idea.

“Oklahoma State University lost one of their favorite mature trees next to a pond on their campus,” Wentrcek said. “Instead of completely cutting down the tree, they left the trunk and carved a boy fishing out of it.

“Once our tree was dead, we had to remove the top limbs for safety, but opted to save the trunk for a potential chainsaw carving based on the idea from OSU. We didn’t really have an exact idea of what to carve, but narrowed it down to an owl or the Pioneer Woman.”

Wentrcek said FMC had never done anything like this before, and no one was sure how it would turn out.

“We wanted this first one to be a prototype so we could evaluate the feasibility of doing future chainsaw art when significant oaks in very visible areas succumb to disease or old age,” he said. “We leaned toward an owl because we thought it would be relatively easy for a prototype.”

Wentrcek contacted a few tree removal companies and job order contractors to see if they knew anyone who could help. “After a couple of months with no luck, I just did a search one day on the internet for chainsaw art and was fortunate enough to find Rob Banda.”

Banda, based in Irving, travels throughout Texas turning recycled logs and tree stumps into works of art. The self-taught carver had never even picked up a chainsaw 10 years ago, but now works full time as an artist.

Wentrcek asked Banda to provide a sketch of an owl, which he then shared with the TWU Office of Marketing & Communication.

“The proof for the original design was a more traditional horned owl,” said Renee Thompson, manager of design services. “I recommended that the owl should be the Texas Barn Owl for branding consistency and also to tie in our connection to Texas. I just pointed out the differences in face shape and body type and sent some images of barn owls that were in positions similar to the sketch.

“Since the sculpture is next to the athletic fields, it’s a nice touch that the owl will be consistent with the athletics logo and Oakley,” she added. “Also, who can resist an owl with a heart-shaped face!”

Banda’s second sketch met with approval, and he got to work.

“The process included getting the right height and width of the log,” he said. “The owl could only be as big or small as the log allows. The log did have a small lean to it, so mid-carve, we had to adjust the positioning of the piece. That is one of the difficulties of working with this canvas: You can only do what the log allows you to do. One rot spot or one wrong cut could mean disaster.”

Banda said he starts with the biggest chainsaw he needs to get clean, straight cuts, then works his way down to small detail chainsaws, then to power tools and chisels and dremels. “The burning process helps with the shading and makes it come together,” he said.

The carving took nine hours.

“I usually break this into two parts, but I wanted it done before the soccer game the next day,” Banda said. “My apprentice, Frank Rosas, and I decided to power through and make it happen.”

The completed sculpture is 8 to 9 feet tall. Wentrcek said he’s very happy with the finished product.

“I hope that in the future we can consider doing more when we lose our older trees,” he said. Wentrcek noted that the university saved money by not having the entire tree taken down to the ground and the stump grinded. In the end, the costs probably equaled out, he said.

“If we do future carvings, I would like to have more TWU community involvement,” Wentrcek said. “The community could help decide whether the tree that has died is worth memorializing, and if so, what image we should use.”


By Karen Garcia
Marketing & Communication