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Local Sculptor Brings New Life to Downed Trees

Post Date:01/18/2019

Martin Conley with his sculpture created from a downed treeWhat happens when a tree comes down in a fast growing city? Is there a way that the legacy of that tree lives on?

As Hillsboro develops, it is a sad reality that despite best efforts to preserve our tree canopy, there are times when trees are cut. Often, the trees are used by the Parks & Recreation Department for vital habitat restoration, placed in creeks to slow the flow of water and create nooks and crannies where fish can rest. The Hillsboro Parks Maintenance Special Projects crew has also become very creative in fashioning dramatic park benches from fallen trees. In some instances, staff from Hillsboro’s Public Art Program has the opportunity to contact local artists and woodworkers who are interested in salvaging the wood.

When a large white oak was cut for the construction of housing at Orenco Station in 2013, local artist Martin Conley met the contractor and selected a forked branch for a sculpture project. Conley allowed the wood to dry in his studio for five years until it was ready to be shaped and carved into something new.

Conley, a third generation Oregonian, has worked in many art forms, from painting and photography to wood sculpture.  He studied sculpture at the University of Oregon, and has pursued many art forms while working as a contractor. As a member and officer of Sequoia Gallery + Studios he worked to support the work of local artists.

When contemplating a new piece of natural wood, Conley lets his intuition guide him and starts carving. Negative spaces, the parts he carves away, are as important as the positive spaces, the wood that remains. He wants the eye to travel in and out to appreciate the cavities, colors, and textures.

This is not Conley’s first rodeo. When an oak tree was removed during the renovation of the Walters Cultural Arts Center, Conley took a section of burl and created a beautiful sculpture that can be seen on the 5th floor of the Hillsboro Civic Center.

In the same way he looks at a downed tree and sees the potential for a sculpture, Conley looks for inspiration all around him. A recent trip to Ireland included a visit to a renowned carver of ancient bogwood and to a woodworker that inspired him to develop a line of modern wood vases. Conley’s current project is developing a new artists’ studio group. Look for their work at Golden Road Studios.

If you an artist or woodworker who would like to be informed when salvage wood is available, please contact LeAnn Alsop (LeAnn.Alsop@Hillsboro-Oregon.gov) to be placed on the list. 

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