Family tree: There's more than one way to preserve a family story

April 20, 2019 9:59:30 PM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


Don't be surprised, when talk turns to family trees, to see a smile break out on the faces of Jeff and Stacy Farnham. The words "family tree" usually bring to mind genealogical diagrams going back generations. The Farnhams, however, have -- well, an actual tree. The tall, old hickory that was hit by lightning in 2017 stands near their home in west Lowndes County, telling its family story. 


"I was sitting out there last spring and told my wife I just didn't have the heart to cut that thing down," said Jeff, recalling how the whole thing started.  


Stacy agreed. "It was a very pretty trunk." 


Half-jokingly, Jeff floated the thought of getting the near 19-foot tall trunk carved, something along the lines of a totem pole.  


"When he got the idea, he wasn't going to let go of it," his wife said. 


Soon, Jeff was searching out wood carvers in the Southeast online. That led him eventually to Heather Bailey of Woodlot Artisans in Calera, Alabama. By early summer, a plan was taking shape. 


"We sent her a lot of pictures, and she started doing sketches," Jeff explained. "We communicated by email and phone." 


"There was a lot of back-and-forth," Bailey confirmed. "There was a ton of ideas, but we ended up narrowing it down to what each person individually was really into." 


The carved images, Stacy said, are special to the family, which includes the Farnhams' grown children, Tori and Tyler, and Tyler's wife and child, Haley and Jack.  


At the top of the tree is a cross. "It represents our Christian faith that is very near and dear to us," said Jeff.  


Below it, a clock face reflects the Farnhams' wedding date in 1989 -- Sept. 16. Other carvings reveal the family's favorite interests as well as travels they've made, both in the United States and abroad.  


"It's very personal," said Stacy, "going back to our anniversary, which is the time carved in the clock, and things around it are special to us, from hunting and cheerleading to baseball, and our family has always loved skiing and MSU ... "  




In the grain 


Every project is unique, said Bailey, who began wood carving 13 years ago. She spent three days in Columbus in early fall, most of it on scaffolding as she wielded chainsaws, side grinders and drills to transform the hard hickory wood into a "family tree." 


"It was about 90 percent (done) with chainsaws," said the carver. "My saws got progressively smaller as I went down." 


The craft is a physical one at any time, but scaffolding added other challenges.  


Jeff recalled, "I went out to watch and she was climbing with (lumber) under her arm ... " 


In addition to going up and down the metal frame with tools and supplies, the artist was limited to a tightly confined workspace.  


"Usually when I'm carving, I can step back (and look), and that changes drastically," Bailey said. "It usually takes twice as long on a sculpture on scaffolding." 


After carving the images, Bailey applied coats of high quality urethane to the finished work, with recommendations to apply additional coats at regular intervals. 


"We also suggest that just like you spray your house for termites and bugs, you spray your (sculpture) for termites and bugs," she advised. 


Stacy and Jeff are pleased with the final results.  


"It's one thing to put it on paper, but it's something else to carve it in a tree," Stacy said. 


The project was positive for the carver, too. 


"Just working with the Farnhams, they impressed me with their family values," she remarked. "I meet the most amazing people." 


By design, plenty of tree space has been left blank, to add more carvings as the family grows. And if Jeff and Stacy ever decide to leave the home they've been in for the past 12 years? 


"If we ever do sell and move, we'll take it with us," Jeff said. "You can cut it off and have a base made and remount it on a steel rod. ... It really means a lot to us. It just really encapsulates our life. It's a reminder to me of how fleeting life is, how quickly it goes, and how valuable and important life and family are."

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.