For the past fifty years, Handley High School’s border with Route 11 was protected by a royal guard of Russian descent. But earlier this summer the members of that same royal guard, which had stood loyally at attention both night and day and through snow and rain for five decades, were summarily executed.
The death of the soldiers wasn’t over some international spying incident steeped in international intrigue but rather an offence much less sinister. The guard’s soldier-straight formation was damaging a nearby sidewalk and the local government, it seems, could no longer abide such malicious and destructive behavior. So earlier this year, the City if Winchester, Virginia ordered that the thirty Siberian Elm trees lining the sidewalk in front of Handley High School be cut down over the pleas of local citizens.
Today, the only thing that remains of the trees are their 30-inch stumps and perhaps a few memories in the minds of the millions of drivers who drove past Handley High School over the years and probably took for granted the majestic tree-lined boulevard.
Fortunately, a local couple’s quick thinking may mean that a portion of the wood from the trees can be “turned” into more than just a memory.
Don and Harriet Maloney have been using lathes to turn wood into art for decades. So when the couple was driving through Winchester one day earlier this summer and saw a tree removal service preparing to topple the large trees, two thoughts immediately when through their minds.
“My first thought was how terrible it was to be cutting down these beautiful trees” said Harriet. “I also thought that it would be wonderful if I could get a little of the wood and turn keepsakes out of it for people who remembered these trees.”
Don Maloney, who has an expert’s eye when it comes to identifying tree trunk deformities known as “burls”, also noticed that some of the Siberian Elms- which were sentenced for burial in a local landfill – were covered with burl.
Burl is a tree growth in which the grain has grown in a deformed manner. It is commonly found in the form of a rounded outgrowth on a tree trunk or branch that is filled with small knots from dormant buds. In the hands of an experienced wood turner like Don Maloney, burls can be transformed into exquisitely striated bowls with fluid grain patterns.
“I stopped and talked with the tree removal guys and they were quite helpful” Maloney said. “I showed them what I needed and they cut off several large burls and put them in the back of my vehicle. I asked them when they would be cutting down a big tree covered with burl. They said it would be the next morning.”
Maloney was back with his truck and trailer early the next morning and was able to take a few sections of the now timbered trees for the keepsake project that he and Harriet hastily devised after contemplating the loss of the Handley High elms.
Don Maloney, whose Raven Rocks Road woodworking shop is filled with burls and other woods from around the wood, has several large lathes that he uses to turn the wood into beautiful bowls, urns and other objects. Don says that his interest in wood turning began as a hobby after retirement but later accidently turned into an architectural wood turning profession.
“My hobby generated excellent money and lead to a 15 year business” Don said. “I later sold the business and returned to hobby artistic wood turning which became a 20-year in this pursuit.”
Harriet Maloney, also a gifted artist and wood turner, often uses a smaller lathe that can produce finer objects like wooded pen barrels, wine bottle stoppers and Christmas tree ornaments. Together the couple sells their wood lathe creations at the Round Hill Arts Center located at Hill High Orchard just west of Round Hill, Virginia on Route 7.
Both Harriet and Don say that the wood from the Siberian Elms has a beautiful quality.
“The wood is a red-ish chocolate color with much variation in the burls” says Don. “The wood has turned very well while it is wet and has many occlusions that must come out leaving holes.
Because only a small amount of wood was obtained, the Maloney’s, whose lathes can turn objects that are up to several feet in diameter, have had to limit the size of their keepsakes to more modest proportions.
“We’re planning on turning wine bottle stoppers, nut bowls, popcorn bowls” said Don Maloney.
However, all good things take time. Because the elm trees were cut only a few months ago, the Maloney’s must process the wood in two steps, once when it is wet and again after it has dried.
“Wet wood has to be turned to its approximate final shape and then allowed to dry slowly after being coated with a water base wax emulsion that keeps the wood from cracking” says Don. “You then need to wait for at least eight months before it can be turned again to its final shape. It could be almost a year before the objects are ready to be offered.”
Maloney said that persons interested in obtaining a keepsake from the Handley Siberian Elms should contact him through the Round Hill Arts Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 540-338-5022.