Mark Lindquist History





Birth of Project

To Blakely
Team Blakely
Building Bridges
Knowing Blakely
Studying Tree
Show Begins
Digging Deep
Main Event
Tree Character

Super Ax
 Film Perspective
Trust Vision
Last Day

Studio Life
Winding Down
30K View





The Blakely Burl Tree Project: The Story

The Blakely Burl Tree Project:
From The Ground Up

by Terry Martin



The morning sun lifts the dew from the grass as the 60-ton crane is brought into position early on Wednesday.

Griffin Brothers Crane Service pulling in to site, early morning 11/04/2009
Photo: Mark Lindquist

Setting up the crane 
Photo: John McFadden

Crane operator Doug Griffin (right) discusses best rigging scheme during safety meeting 
Photo: John McFadden

The tree is attached to its enormous hook with soft loops that will not damage the wood when the strain is taken.

Gary Stevens (left) and Mark Lindquist, rigging the Blakely Burl Tree for hoisting
Photo: John McFadden

As he has done for every stage of the process, Mark has Greg filming him while he explains what is happening, why work proceeds the way it does, and what to expect next. Stanley and I are watching and he wryly comments to me, “You know, Mark is one of the nicest guys I've met, but when you work with him he's gonna let you know he's in charge. That's the only way he can get what he does done!”

Mark Lindquist (right) being filmed by Greg Andracke (center) and Ken Browne
Photo: John McFadden

Heather delivers welcome morning coffee and sweet rolls, and while we tuck in Greg Baxley walks up, holding a large bag in his hands. “You wanna see some arrowheads?” he says. He opens the bag and lays out a wonderful selection on the bench, spreading his hands over the delicately shaped flints. “Y’all can take what you want,” he offers. The crew gathers around and soon we have each chosen our own special souvenir of Blakely. Mr. Baxley looks very pleased. It’s a very generous gesture and confirms my impression of the kindness of people here.

Terry Martin (right) accepting gift of arrowheads from Greg Baxley.
Photo: John McFadden

While we are drinking our coffee, people start speculating about how heavy the tree is. “It’s gotta be 20,000 lbs,” says one. “No way!” says another. “I’d say no more than 12,000.” Because the crane can weigh its load, somebody suggests we run a competition to see who can guess closest to the weight.

Jim Carver keeps track of guesses, Doug Griffin collects dollars.  (The whole thing was rigged...) 
Photo: John McFadden

With the trunk securely attached to the crane, Mark and Gary watch carefully as the tree is jiggled by the crane. The whole root ball and attached earth moves. “Gary was right, there’s no taproot!” Mark laughs. Gentle lift is applied by the crane and Gary swings into action with his 5-foot, carbide-toothed chainsaw, cutting through grit, wood and soil.

Gary Stevens (right) begins cutting roots as tree is freed from ground.
Photo: Mark Lindquist

Gary Stevens (right) finishes cutting roots as tree is freed from ground.
Photo: Mark Lindquist

Crane begins pulling tree out of ground. Photo: Mark Lindquist

As daylight gradually appears between the root ball and the bed of the Big Ditch, it becomes clear that Gary is right and there is no taproot. “Boy, that’s a relief!” Mark says. “I was sweating on that.”

A tense moment as Mark Lindquist and Gary Stevens watch the tree being pulled out of the ground.  A critical time, fraught with danger. 
Photo: John McFadden

The tree is free from the ground and soars into the sky.
Photo: Mark Lindquist

Greg Andracke (left) and John McFadden (right) documenting the action.
Photo: Mark Lindquist

Everyone immediately wants to know how much it weighs, so work is suspended while the operator climbs into the crane to check.

Doug Griffen checks weight on the Blakely Burl Tree.
Photo: John McFadden

It comes in at 19,000 lbs. Congratulations are offered to the winner, then somebody points out that we were estimating the weight of the tree, not the tree and the dirt! It’s true, there is still a huge amount of dirt imbedded within the root system and while it is still suspended over the Ditch, the team sets to with hand tools to clear as much of it as possible. Eventually we find that with the bulk of the dirt removed, the trunk weighs 16,000 lbs. The debate over who really won continues.

Doug Griffen awards Tommy the cash - being the winner guessing the right weight.
Photo: John McFadden
There is a beautiful moment as the trunk is raised from the ditch, slowly spinning in the gentle light. Everyone pauses to watch it rise and swing gently across the slab.

The Blakely Burl Tree, resting above ditch, out of the ground.
Photo: John McFadden

The tree is re-rigged, preparing for the horizontal move, lying the tree down.
Photo: Mark Lindquist

We stand back while the tree is gently laid down on its side and there is such a sense of reverence about the slow movement that I can’t help feeling it is being laid to rest.
Mark and Gary go into one of their huddles.

Doug Griffen directing movement of tree, carefully bringing it horizontal.
Photo: Mark Lindquist

The Blakely Burl Tree comes to rest on the ground. 
Photo: John McFadden

Once they have made their decisions about where to cut, Gary trims the smaller roots away. The crew take it in turns to gouge away at the dirt with crowbars and pickaxes, gradually clearing the dirt. It’s a slow, hand-blistering process as Mark insists that damage to the roots is minimized. “There’s going to be some interesting possibilities with these shapes,” he says.

Gary Stevens (right) and team cleaning dirt from roots.
Photo: John McFadden

The work of removing the dirt will take hours, so Ken, Greg and I visit the high school to see some of the woodshop students at work and talk to them about their impressions of the Burl Tree Project. When we arrive I am happy to see that the students are busy turning wooden pens on lathes. We interview some of them for the camera and ask them what they hope they will do in the future. I am impressed by their polite responses and by the clarity of their plans. One young man, appropriately named Turner, tells me that he’d like to pursue a career in woodwork. Maybe the Burl Tree Project is already planting mental seeds, so I ask them for their thoughts on the project. One young woman shyly asks, “Is it true that tree is worth over a million dollars?”
They deserve an answer to that question, so I explain to them that burl trees are found all over the world, but that the Blakely Burl Tree is unusual because it is a pecan tree and none of us has ever heard of pecan burl tree before. “But,” I explain, “just because it’s rare doesn’t mean that it’s really valuable. Some burls are valuable and a whole burl tree can be extremely valuable, but because we’ve never seen pecan burl, we don’t know yet what it’s worth.”
The looks of disbelief on their faces are a clear answer. “So,” I explain further, “I suppose you want to know why we’re working so hard to get that tree?” Heads nod, so I explain the history of the site and the plans for making art works to be shown in a museum there. “It’s not so much the tree that’s valuable,” I say, “it’s what can be made from the tree that is going to be valuable. And you know,” I add, “there is a value that can’t be measured.” “What’s that,” one young man asks. “It’s what it symbolizes,” I say. “What it can mean to the town.” I see them exchange glances, so I can only hope that as the project evolves and the art work starts to return to the town, they will understand.

When we return to the site, Mark has called a halt. Most of the dirt has been removed from the root ball.

Most of dirt cleaned from roots.
Photo: John McFadden

Also, the hole in the ground has been filled and there is no evidence that a tree was ever there. Tomorrow will be our last day on this site and it will also be when we first cut into the trunk to see what is inside. Mark ends the day, as always, by thanking everyone for their hard work. “Tomorrow will be great,” he says. “We finally get to see what we’ve got.” He smiles broadly, but later I see him sitting quietly with a far-away look on his face. Mark has a lot riding on what happens tomorrow.

Mark Lindquist at Blakely Burl Tree Site, end of day. 
Photo: John McFadden

Introduction | The Story | The Tree | The Artwork | Team | NewsFilm | Sawmill | Location | Rice Foundation