They came to rescue Harry Whitehorse's Effigy Tree this morning. The Ho-Chunk artist, his wife, Deb, Madison Arts Commission administrator Karin Wolf and other interested parties looked on as a city crew removed the work and placed it on a truck for conveyance to Whitehorse's studio in Monona. There, he will set about working to restore the sculpture in preparation for possible casting in bronze or some other durable material.
Carved from the trunk of a hackberry tree that had been felled by a lightning bolt, the work has taken a beating from the elements since its dedication in 1991 on a site once dense with sacred Ho-Chunk effigy mounds. Whitehorse restored the work in 1997, and returned it to its vantage point overlooking Lake Monona off Lakeland Avenue. But the weather has continued to take its toll, and small fauna have taken up residence inside the sculpture.
Spurred by Wolf and a neighborhood that commissioned and embraced the original work, efforts are underway to explore the feasibility and practicalities of casting the work in bronze and returning it to the site. Less costly alternatives have also been under consideration. Wolf has scheduled a meeting for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 5, at the Pinney Branch Library on Cottage Grove Road to discuss the full range of possibilities and gauge public support for restoration, reproduction and preservation of the Whitehorse masterpiece.
There was one brief moment of concern this morning when smoke started billowing out of the Tree, the result of sparks kicked from a saw cutting through mounting poles used to keep the sculpture in place. This was quickly doused with water, though, and the work continued.
As suggested in the accompanying gallery of photos by neighborhood resident and Isthmus associate publisher Linda Baldwin, the process of removing the weather-beaten original work from its base merits the same degree of care, effort and attention to detail as perpetuation of the work for future generations.