For some 100 years, a towering maple tree stood prominent outside the former Yuncker Manor near Wright Park in Tacoma. That began to change nearly two years ago when locals started to notice the old tree was dying.
“There are so many folks who walk in front of our office,” explained attorney Virginia DeCosta, who purchased the former manor, which is located at 519 S. G St., eight years ago with her husband, Marc Ross, and turned it into the offices of the DeCosta Law Firm. The former two-story residence was built in 1889 and is now listed on Tacoma’s Register of Historic Places. “They would come and knock on the door to tell us, ‘Something is wrong with your tree.’ If there was any way to save it — or any part of it — we would have. We care very deeply about roots — no pun intended — and history.”
According to the couple, they consulted with City officials and local arborists to confirm the tree could not be saved.
“We wanted to make sure that the tree itself kind of continued to live, even though it had died,” added Ross.
It sounded like a job for local painter, illustrator, and chainsaw sculptor Bruce ‘Thor’ Thorsteinson, who prefers the name ‘Thor From Earth.’
DeCosta recalled seeing one of Thor’s wizard-and-dragon chainsaw sculptures near North 11th and Anderson Streets, and wondered if they could hire Thor to create art from their dying tree.
“We just didn’t want to dump it,” noted Ross. “It deserved better than that.”
The tree was cut down earlier this month. Thor started to create the sculpture within days, climbing atop scaffolding of ladders and planks to use a chainsaw and grinder to de-bark the tree and carve out the shapes, and a leaf blower to clear away the sawdust. In the end, his creation will depict a cluster of sea turtles, a school of fish swimming through sea grass, dolphins, crabs, and star fish — a scene that speaks to DeCosta’s Portuguese-Hawaiian roots
“I started working on it on my birthday,” said Thor while he took a break on Wednesday afternoon. “It’s not normally how I spend my birthday — debarking a log. But I wanted to get started because I knew it was going to be a big job and require a lot of time. It’s a maple tree that’s been dead for more than a year. It’s as hard as a rock.”
In addition to the sculptures near North 11th and Anderson Streets, Thor recently created a 10-foot-tall cedar Viking for the Everett Sons of Norway. Thor said he spent most of last year on the road, traveling to New Mexico, Georgia, and Pennsylvania to participate in a circuit of art shows.
“I’m a chainsaw gypsy,” he added. “Who knew you could tour the world with a chainsaw?”
Thor hoped to finish the sculpture around Thanksgiving. “It’s hard to say. There’s still a lot of work to be done. I just have to keep at it.”
DeCosta and Ross are pleased with Thor’s work so far.
“We have had a lot of people stop by to look at the progress,” said Ross. “They are excited to see what we are doing here.”
Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index, an award-winning journalist, and author of A Reporter At Large: A decade of Tacoma interviews, feature articles, and photographs. His journalism is collected online at wahmee.com.