Arts, City of Seward, Outdoors

Communal Tree brings final touch to lovely public space

Sandy Stolle and Sheila Morrow having just installed their Communal Tree.
Sandy Stolle and Sheila Morrow having just installed their Communal Tree.

Heidi Zemach for SCN –

The Seward Library Museum’s landscaped garden, on the south side of the building is blessed with the recent arrival of a new sculpture that ties together the garden’s plants, the mural, the building’s siding and iridescent tiles, and the purpose of the building itself. The garden area is probably now one of Seward’s most beautiful public outdoor garden spaces, but also a rather underutilized, hidden little gem. Friends of the Seward Library is hosting a public garden party Friday, July 11th, at 6:30 p.m. to welcome “Communal Tree” the garden’s newest addition, and to celebrate the garden and the many people who have contributed their time working there.

The sculpture was created by local artists, Sandy Stolle and Sheila Morrow from Yellow Cedar, and fused, slumped art glass. Stolle created the trunk and branches, and Morrow contributed the decorative glass.

The communal tree theme is a meaningful symbol, recognized around the world as a place where people have traditionally gathered to meet, tell stories, and pass down their culture and history, Stolle said. The tree they created ties in with the forest theme of the mural, and they believe its form fits well with the garden setting.

“We really worked to find something that worked with the building and the garden, that didn’t compete but was strong enough, and would be bold enough to put with the mural but that would not fight it,” Stolle said.

The embedded art glass colors were taken from a fusion of colors from the mural, garden and reflective building tiles, and just as the building tiles do, they will change with the colors and mood of the sky from cloudy to sunny, morning to evening, and from one season to another, Morrow said. Its horizontal branches should also be interesting as the weather changes, laden with fresh snow in the winter, or with rain rolling off the branches and pooling on the glass blossoms.

Blending glass and wood together in an outdoor sculpture was quite challenging, so the artists took an entire year to experiment with different types of wood, glass, wood finishes and sealants until they found the ones that would weather the years in Seward conditions.


While looking for the right wood, they looked into the wood that Alaska totem pole carvers most often use, and learned that Yellow Cedar is frequently used due to its durability. They also talked to construction workers, and people who work in the marine industry to find a type of silicone sealant that would be pliable enough to expand and contract with the wooden branches, but would not dry out or crack. Once the final glass was installed, the tree received several layers of wood finishes.

For added strength, they used a Sonotube commonly used as the foundation for signposts, embedding the sculpture in concrete two feet deep, 18 inches in diameter. “The sculpture itself is not that heavy,” Morrow said, “but it has a very, very sturdy base.”

Library Mural and landscaping, Heidi Zemach file photo from 2013.
Library Mural and  early landscaping, Heidi Zemach file photo from summer of 2013.

The sculpture was commissioned by the Seward Community Library Museum Building Committee, a group formed by the Library Association and Resurrection Bay Historical Society. It joins the garden with its rock drainage garden, garden pathway, trees and plants, and handsome carved wooden benches where people can sit and read or socialize.

The Community Library Museum building was completed and turned over to the City of Seward in December 10th, 2012, but the landscaping and artwork has progressed one piece at a time.

One of the beautiful carved benches by Kent Rininger,  installed last June. Mary Tougas photo credit.
One of the beautiful carved benches by Kent Rininger, installed last June. Mary Tougas photo credit.

The garden was designed by C. J. Rea, who works for the Kenai Fjords National Park.  Katy Turnbull, a retired local schoolteacher, took charge of the planting, and ordered the plants from Fritz Creek Gardens, of Homer. Dutch Boy Landscaping undertook the site work and garden installation last summer. Kent Rininger handcrafted the beautiful benches, which were installed last June. Then the contractors installed the wooden fence. Nichole Feemster designed the mural and oversaw its painting helped by host of volunteers at the Seward Music and Arts Festival. Harmon Construction installed it. Many other volunteers helped with the garden including Rae, Katy and Craig Turnbull, Herb and Donna Wottlin, Mike and Marsha Guskey, Tye Long, Binget Nillson, Nan Thompson, and Denise Johnson.


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