Humans have long felt the presence of spirits living in the forest. For Keith Jennings, those ethereal beings take the form of human faces, peering out from the bark of trees. The sculptor began creating the wooden sages in his backyard with basic hand tools. Eventually, he was commissioned to transform twenty oaks on St. Simon's Island off of the coast of Georgia for the project, Tree Spirits. Blending in with their surroundings, the visages appear from stumps, look through ferns, emerge from of gnarled trunks.
Through his work, Keith Jennings draws a connection between human spirituality and the environment. The serene and wise expressions create an emotional connection to plants that may at first feel distant and abstract. He was commissioned to immortalize the sailors who lost their lives at sea aboard the ships sailing near St. Simon’s Island.
According to the artist, each portrait emerges from the character of the oak. The personality of the piece is dictated by the wood and the communication between living medium and carver. “I don’t have that much to do with it. The wood speaks to you, ya know?” says Jennings. Taking two to four days to complete, the faces age as the tree begins to heal itself, slowly changing the expression.
Jennings’ Tree Spirits project is on display across St. Simon’s Island. The mysterious faces can easily be located using Google Maps, although the more adventurous may enjoy exploring without the aid of a guide.