lych-gates & oak trees

In 1994-1995, I worked with the construction of two timber-framed oak pavilions for St. Philip’s Episcopal Cathedral in Atlanta, accessory structures to the rectory (the building in the background) and the parking area. Officially, my role was as a woodcarver, adding details to the framing members which had been cut and fitted before I arrived. Later, I helped with raising and completing the structures. [The lych-gate is a common feature in the English landscape, the separation between the church and the churchyard (or cemetery). Traditionally, a body was laid out in the lych-gate prior to interment.]

In 1994-1995, I worked with the construction of two timber-framed oak pavilions for St. Philip’s Episcopal Cathedral in Atlanta, accessory structures to the rectory (the building in the background) and the parking area. Officially, my role was as a woodcarver, adding details to the framing members which had been cut and fitted before I arrived. Later, I helped with raising and completing the structures. [The lych-gate is a common feature in the English landscape, the separation between the church and the churchyard (or cemetery). Traditionally, a body was laid out in the lych-gate prior to interment.]

I don’t pay much attention to politics, or the “news”. And, in the fall of 2000, I was out of town during most of the Kohl’s trees debacle, working on a project outside Little Rock. Coming back into Fayetteville and realizing that there were some thirty big oak trees about to be sacrificed to capitalism, I started asking around about how they might be acquired. Small town that this is, I knew the attorney who represented the developer...gave him a call, and got the cell phone number of the developer’s agent, the man responsible for closing the deal. By the time I got him on the phone, he was sitting in the terminal at XNA, waiting, as he told me, "...to fly back to North Carolina, and then home to Atlanta.” If I had a point, I was going to have to make it quickly…

“Do you know the Episcopal Cathedral on Peachtree Avenue?”

“Yeah, I go to church there…”

“Do you know the lych-gates in the back?”

“If you want to build something like that with those timbers, you can have them.”

Just like that. Out of the blue, my long shot had connected with a corporate real estate developer...we had common ground…I had thirty huge oak logs. I made arrangements with a logger to bring a truck with a loader, and the logs were moved from the Kohl’s site to Bob Jordan’s farm, off Hwy. 112, just a few mile away. That cost me $1000.

Then, I began shopping around the idea of actually building with the logs. The response was not at all what I had expected. John Lewis told me I had a “tar baby”. Several of the environmentalists offered their opinion that it would have been better had the logs been burned, as they were no longer useful as a symbol. City Parks didn’t really even want to talk about using the logs, and the Botanical Garden was interested, but afraid of offending city hall. So, another three years waiting for the stigma to wear off, and finally the Botanical Garden relented and took them off my hands. I was reimbursed my initial $1000 plus $300 interest, and within the next year a building had emerged from that rough wood.