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10-Foot Totem Pole Graces Edgewood Road

Local artist carved tree damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

David Hill with a totem pole he carved after Hurricane Sandy. Credit: Jake Remaly
David Hill with a totem pole he carved after Hurricane Sandy. Credit: Jake Remaly

David Hill revved up a chainsaw over the summer and used it on a Hurricane Sandy-damaged tree in an entirely different way.

Months after he helped clean up some of the trees that fell on his street, damaging houses (including his own), totaling a Honda and blocking traffic, he started carving a totem pole.

Hill, an artist who sculpts metal at his studio in Chatham, always wanted to carve a totem pole. He got his chance when Department of Public Works employees came to remove what remained of a snapped shade tree on his neighbor's property.

They left behind 10 feet of the oak tree's trunk with its roots still in the ground, and planned to get the rest later. Instead, Hill got permission to create a totem pole and the workers held off.

From the top down, he carved an owl, a turtle, cougar paw prints, and a bear holding lacrosse sticks. Sometimes a crowd of people watched as he worked. Later, he added a football and soccer ball.

The sports symbols were incorporated for athletes in the Hayes family, who live on the Chatham Township property where the totem pole is located.

Driving by the pole Monday, Karen Hayes said Hill is talented and told him it was looking good. He recently sanded and clear coated the totem pole after tannic acid in the tree changed the color of the wood.

Edgewood Drive, which has portions in Chatham Township and Chatham Borough, is near Chatham High School and Cougar Field. Hill said there has been talk about donating the totem pole and having it installed at the football field.

Photo-op

The totem is a popular local photo-op, and it was lit up during the Edgewood Road block party this month.

"It's a small town, people talk," Hill said. "It's unusual, so people drive by and take a look."

Hill started carving with his chainsaw, but soon borrowed a chainsaw and another tool from a local artist who works with wood. He darkened sections of the wood by burning it with a propane torch and also used some of his own metal working tools. Each section of the totem pole took several hours to complete.

Hill, who is married and has two children, owns Walkley Works, a metal sculpting studio in Chatham.

Some signs of Hurricane Sandy, like uprooted trees, remain around Edgewood Road, which was without power for two weeks after the storm. But Hill doesn't primarily think of the storm when he sees the totem pole.

He thinks, "There's a totem pole in Chatham."

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