Giant acorn is rooted in history
— Created November 23, 2022 by Kathy Reed
By Kathy Reed
A new statue situated along SE Pioneer Way in Oak Harbor is rooted in Whidbey Island history.
The Giant Acorn statue put in place last week comes from the beloved Grand Old Oak, which stood at the corner of the city’s post office parking lot for approximately 400 years. The tree was cut down in 2014, upsetting many residents.
“At the time of its demise, a tree ring count determined this revered community asset and landmark oak had been growing since the year 1684,” Laura Renninger, president of the Oak Harbor Garry Oak Society, said in an email statement to Whidbey Weekly. “In 2015, an ad hoc committee was formed by the City of Oak Harbor to recommend the best use of the Grand Old Oak’s wood to commemorate and honor the oak tree for current and future citizens of Oak Harbor. One popular idea for wood use was a Giant Acorn sculpture. Now on public display, this sculpted wooden acorn is ringed by images of habitat species that might be found within a Garry oak ecosystem, which the artist carved into the supporting base.”
Whidbey Island artist Pat McVay submitted the winning design for the Giant Acorn. Long familiar with working with cedar, McVay said working with oak was a challenge.
“Oak is 12 times more dense than cedar, and heavy, too,” he said, describing how he had to deal with cracks in the oak’s wood.
“There were over 1,000 cracks,” McVay continued. “I would sit there with glue and a little hammer; I’d squirt some glue into the crack, find the right sliver that would fit in the crack and hammer it in. Then I’d go on to the next one and the next one. I had boxes full of wood pieces from the same tree, so it’s all the same density. If you look closely, you can see at least 1,000 wedges. But it came out real nice.”
McVay said he used high quality, marine grade glue, stain and varnish to finish the piece, in hopes of protecting it from the elements. A special metal plate in the shape of an oak leaf was made to help disperse the sculpture’s weight, because engineers feared the 2,800-pound sculpture might buckle the sidewalk. But the project is not quite finished yet.
“One of the things I recognized even before I started, was that we’d have to put a roof over it,” said McVay. “It’s a 400-year-old piece of wood. There’s a budget to put a roof over it, so it will be a cluster of three giant oak leaves over the top, like an awning of sorts, made out of lightweight steel. That will help protect the finish and keep it looking good for a long time.”
McVay said he thinks the favorite part of the process of creating the Giant Acorn was learning about the Garry oak’s history.
“I was familiar with how important it was to everyone, but part of what I like about my work is I get to do research,” he said. “I found out a lot about the history and interesting facts about the Native American culture and habitat. I incorporated some of that into the design as well – there’s a Native paddle in the water, some sea life, some critters that would have lived in and around the tree. There’s a lot to discover. I hope people might get a chuckle out of it.”
The Giant Acorn is the first of three projects that are to come from the remains of the Grand Old Oak. Still to be completed is a live edge conference table, made from a slice of one of the two large trunk pieces. The other is a ring count slice, also from one of the large trunk pieces.
“It is the hope of Oak Harbor Garry Oak Society that this art from local Garry oak wood will help to increase public knowledge, enjoyment, and understanding of our unique native trees,” Renninger’s statement read. “To further understanding of acorns and oak trees, we encourage the public to visit the Post Office Native Plant Pocket Park, where the stump of the Grand Old Oak can still be seen. There is an interpretive sign nearby, displaying photos of some of the life cycle of the Grand Old Oak, starting with an acorn.”
“I hope people take their time and enjoy walking around it and seeing the story and the history,” McVay said. “It’s nice to have it out in public, because a lot of people won’t go to a museum or gallery, but if it’s right there in front of them, they get to experience public art.”
McVay noted there are a number of examples of Garry oak pieces by artists on display at galleries around Whidbey Island. Anyone interested in seeing more of McVay’s work can find it just up the street from the Giant Acorn in the Garry Oak Gallery, or visit his website, mcvaysculpture.com. To learn more about the Oak Harbor Garry Oak Society, visit ohgarryoaksociety.org.