Honoring a century old tree with the help of a Midland artist/woodworker

When it came time for Cheryl and Larry Levy to remove a diseased, century-old silver maple tree that stood in their yard–  they knew they had to find a way to honor it. Someone suggested to Cheryl that she have some items made from the tree after it was cut down, so she embarked on a quest. 

Within footsteps of the Levy’s home, which was built in 1876 and has local historic roots, Cheryl went to the gift shop at Dow Gardens. There she found several pieces of wood carvings made by local artist and woodcarver, Larry Kershner – also known as Dr. K.  It was then when a plan began to unfold.
The century old tree on the former McGregor farm.
“Larry is a gem of a man. (Dr. K) came over and brought over some of his samples. I knew we had to do something like this, and honor the tree.” Dr. K says he was happy to help. Once the tree was cut down, Dr. K picked up the branches and bark and took it back to his shop, which is located off the garage at his Midland home. And the work began …

Dr. K, the artist

Sitting comfortably in a chair surrounded by many of his own wood carvings, personal effects, artwork and books, Dr. K talks about his background. He humbly shows some of his favorite wood creations that he’s kept for himself and his family. He’s a retired chemist and Ph.D from the Dow Chemical Co., where he worked in R & D (research and development) for 35 years. When he retired in 2004, he knew he had to keep busy. 

“I grew zucchini for a while, and I gave away a lot of them. When people saw me they started running in another direction,” he jokes. His interest in woodworking was then rekindled and he turned it into a full-time hobby. “I was making bowls and other things, and someone had said it was good enough to sell. I didn’t know about that.” 

He started selling his items at a local consignment shop in downtown Midland, Imagine That. To date, Dr. K has produced nearly 4,000 turned wooden items for family and friends and he’s sold pieces through his Bowls & More business. Dr. K says he finds working with wood relaxing and freeing. “I let the wood talk to me. It’s never exact,” explaining that he follows the art where it leads him.
Dr. K learned to carve wood as a high schooler growing up in Kansas.
Dr. K learned to carve wood as a high schooler growing up in Kansas.  “That’s when everyone took ‘Shop.’  No one takes that anymore,” he says. He works with a variety of wood including honey locust, cedar, box elder, walnut, cherry and maple. His specialty is making bowls made from a variety of locally grown types of wood from Mid-Michigan and the surrounding area. His usual starting material is green wood that was originally intended for firewood or discarded logs. He is typically provided the wood or picks it up on his own to work on projects. He has many piles of green wood in his backyard waiting to be turned into pieces.

Dr. K describes himself as self taught on different varieties of wood, and has continued to come up with original pieces such as winged bowls, small birdhouse ornaments, lighthouses, bangle bracelets, purse hangers, jewelry boxes, bottle stoppers and urns. Custom pieces are made upon request. His favorite pieces to make are the birdhouse ornaments.

In describing one of his latest creations using spalted maple wood, he says he was blown away with the colors the wood demonstrated. “What I enjoy is the satisfaction of making something that's meaningful to people and to me.” He works year round about 2.5 hours per day in his 15 x 25 woodworking shop and considers shop safety very important. “That's what I learned at Dow. I’m very conscious of it,” he says. Safety measures include using a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter and a power respirator.

Recycled custom pieces with history

Dr. K personally took over the completed pieces to the Levys. “We were just so delighted. It’s exactly what we were looking for and [the items] honor the tree,” Cheryl says. Some two dozen bowls were made by Dr. K from the Levys’ silver maple. Cheryl has given the bowls as gifts to friends, family and neighbors. Cheryl also had Dr. K custom make her an urn from the same wood.

“The tree was part of this neighborhood, so we wanted to share it with those in the neighborhood.”  Cheryl says she felt the bowls were a piece of local history, and the Levys thought it would be nice to honor the tree in that manner. According to Cheryl, their Victorian home was built in 1876 by John McGregor and was previously owned for many years by the Arbury Family. The Levys, who are long-time educators and theater directors, purchased the historic home in 1990.
Kershner made an urn for Cheryl Levy.
“I always wanted to live in a historic home. It had manicured gardens, apple trees and so much character,” says Cheryl. “I was meant to live in this home.” She and her husband Larry consulted with five different arborists/tree experts before deciding to have the silver maple cut down. Many believed the tree was planted some 100 years ago. 

“The trunk was splitting. It was having an effect on our property and the property of our neighbors. The disease was advanced.” The Levys also held a “tree wake” after the tree came down. She describes the wake as a chance to talk with neighbors and serve maple syrup covered cookies. Honoring the tree in this way was rewarding, Cheryl says, “It’s really nice to give objects to people that have a lot of meaning. And it’s a good way to recycle.”

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Read more articles by Erika M. Hirschman.

A veteran freelance writer and former reporter with The Midland Daily News, Erika has covered a wide array of topics in and around Midland and Saginaw counties. She’s an award winning reporter, and holds a journalism degree from the University of Detroit-Mercy/Marygrove College. When Erika is not writing, she enjoys dancing in her kitchen with her two dogs and family. She loves to read, cook, travel and go to concerts. She’s lived in Saginaw County for 26 years.