Broken tree lives on as sculpture

Husband and wife in front of their tree sculpture.
Rock Springs Road residents Diane and Israel Stol commemorated the storm-damage loss of their silver maple tree by carving a cello into the stump.

What do you do if a beloved tree in your yard is badly damaged by a storm and can’t be saved? If you’re Diane and Israel Stol, of Rock Springs Road, you make something beautiful out of the remains.

When they came home one day this past August to find a big piece of their silver maple tree in their driveway, the Stols agonized over cutting down the rest of it. Tree experts advised that it needed to come down for safety reasons, but the huge tree had been a lovely presence in their front yard for decades.

That’s when Israel Stol, a retired welding engineer and amateur sculptor, came up with the idea of hiring a wood sculptor to “make something good out of something bad.” The couple hit on the concept of carving a cello out of the stump of the tree, both because they love music and because their younger daughter is a cellist.

“We really wanted to honor that beautiful tree,” said Diane. The Stols found a wood sculptor named Justin Driver in Kentucky, who happened to have a commission in Pittsburgh coming up. Although he had never had a job that required using a chainsaw on a stump still anchored in the ground, he was enthusiastic about the idea and worked with the homeowners to design the piece.

“It was really teamwork over 2 ½ days,” according to Israel. “We put our ideas together, and the result was so gratifying. One of the difficult parts was attaching the stainless steel strings to the wood.” The work was covered with teak oil to protect it.

The cello sculpture joins other sculptures made of metal by Israel in the Stols’ front yard, several of them music-themed. 

Diane added, “The commission was completely out of Justin’s comfort zone. And now it’s one of his favorite pieces.”

Photography by John Altdorfer