The Artist Behind University Park’s Tree Carvings

If you walk through University Park, you’ve seen Don Becker’s art.

The Bethesda chainsaw artist has now carved several tree stumps in the town’s public spaces, including the iconic Kermit the Frog sculpture honoring former resident Jim Henson, a night heron sculpture by a creek, an owl at a town playground and most recently a sculpture of squirrels running around a tree at the town’s new nature playground which is scheduled to open up in May.

Becker, who works as a puppeteer, sculptor and scenic artist, first learned how to handle a chainsaw while working for his family’s lawn-and-garden equipment store in Manassas, Va., but only added carving to his repertoire in the last five years.

He told the Hyattsville Wire that each sculpture starts with an idea that he then has to adapt to the material.

“I have a notion of what I am going to carve,” he said. “I work from doodles that come to me throughout the day. The figures in University Park are based on the animals that one would find in the park. Even Kermit!”

But he said that the shape of the tree often changes how the composition comes out, as does the occasional mistake.

“You either make it work or cover it up!” he said. “Seriously, a little glue and dowels will do wonders. Sometimes you don’t know what the condition of the trunk is like until you start carving. For example, the night heron at University Park was supposed to have little skinny legs, but when we got to that part, the tree was so rotted from the inside, we had to abandon the design and patch with glue and sawdust.”

The carvings take about one to three days, and they are typically done on trees that need to come down or have been severely damaged in a storm. There’s no telling how long they’ll last, since that depends on the type of wood and the weather conditions.

Becker also has another project at the new playground in University Park. He’ll soon be carving a decorative bench out of a log overlooking the play area.

But University Park isn’t the only town along the Route 1 corridor with chainsaw art. Other works by various artist can be seen in Bladensburg, Hyattsville and elsewhere.

 

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