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The extreme drought of 2012 took its toll on many trees. Some died, and many more will succumb in the next few years. But the lack of rain clouds had a silver lining.

From sculptures to tree houses, many St. Louisans are finding new and interesting things to do with the stumps left behind from these fallen trees.

Tree trunk sculptures seem to be a growing trend among homeowners and savvy gardeners. Skilled chainsaw carvers are able to sculpt animals, totem poles and figures out of the left-behind wood.

Ryan Meyer, a first-grade teacher in the Festus R6 School District, has been carving tree stumps for 10 years. He’s the owner of the Wood Den in Crystal City and has saved a few tree stumps from the 2012 drought. “Every year it gets busier,” says Meyer. He did 40 carvings last year between May and September.

Stacey Robinson, 51, of Robinson Carving Co. in Montgomery City, has seen an increase in tree trunk carvings, too. “Many folks say they’re losing a tree that is important to them, and they’ll miss it when it’s gone.” A tree design is one way to salvage the memory.

“A lot of grown kids are purchasing tree carvings as gifts for their parents,” adds Robinson.

Robinson has been carving for 25 years and his wife, Jo, has been doing it for seven. His two sons picked up the habit and now his daughter, Taylor, 20, is starting to get familiar with the saw. “It’s just a matter of time, and she’ll be carving, too,” adds Robinson. He’s done 16 tree arts already this year and has several more lined up.

Meyer can create a totem pole from a small cedar tree. In one day, he carved an eagle from an old stump in Spanish Lake. He cut two benches, a table, four stump stools, and a tree house table from one walnut log left in a customer’s yard from a tree trimmer. It took him one day.

Meyer’s artwork begins with a stump standing 8 to 12 feet tall. He carves black labs, deer, turkey, eagles, cardinals, raccoons, squirrels, dogs and even historical and religious figures. “I’ve never done a pirate, but it could happen,” says Meyer.

“A dead-tree sculpture will last about 10 years. But if you seal it every two years, it could last up to 25 years,” Meyer says.

Homeowners are also finding other ways to reuse a stump. Nick Davis, 34, and Chrissy Davis, 33, of Lake Saint Louis, have a special place in their backyard for their three kids. It’s a tree house sitting on a 4,000-pound hollow tree trunk from the banks of the Missouri River. The couple found a crooked-style tree house, kind of like the Keebler elves’ house, online. It had a price tag of $30,000. “Super expensive,” says Chrissy. Her husband opted to build a replica of the tree house.

With the help of a Bobcat and a forklift, Nick moved the 4,000-pound trunk last year to their backyard and bolted it to a concrete pad. He built the kids’ playhouse and placed it on top of the trunk. They painted it, added Trex decking and a slide and installed wine barrel slats. Welded monkey bars completed the new play area for the children.

“It was quite a production bringing in the stump,” says Chrissy. All the neighbors turned out to watch the process. It’s become the main attraction in the neighborhood.


Need a tree stump carver?

1. The Wood Den, 636-209-0514; Prices: Tree stump carvings are $695 a day ($500 for a second day if needed).

2. Robinson Carving Co., 1-573-592-9583; Prices: Tree stump art prices start at $850 and go up depending on the travel, the size of the tree and the carving choice. Prices start at $100 a foot to have a log turned into a piece of art.

3. St. Louis TreeHouse Inc., 314-378-1948; Starting at $100 an hour to build a tree house on a stump. Also turns stumps into staircases.

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Karen Deer is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.