Gallery: Keith Jennings Carves Mysterious Spirits into Living Trees

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.

+ Keith Jennings

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1 Comment

  1. mythyvonne April 11, 2013 at 11:06 am

    Wow, your carvings are exquisite! They really capture the “spirit” of the forest and remind me of the Mountain Ghosts I have seen in Switzerland. I have to say that I am dismayed to see that you are carving into healthy trees. Have you consulted an arborist in regards to this practice? I see that your text makes mention of the trees’ “healing” but these are serious injuries which can cause the death of the tree. The bark is a protective layer for a tree. Your carvings have removed this layer and have also compromised the phylum and xylem of the tree. This opens the tree up to infection/disease and or invasion by pests. It also compromises the trees’ ability to process sugars/food. This is a dangerous practice for the health of the trees. Have you considered carving into wood from dead trees and finding a non-invasive way to install your carvings in the forest? This practice of carving into the bark of a live tree sets a dangerous precedent for others who may be inspired by your work. Currently, our trees are under a lot of pressure due to drought, disease, invasive pests, and pollution. To add to the burden for survival seems counter-intuitive to your effort to bring people closer to nature. Your work shows your heart and your creativity. I’m certain your ingenuity can find a way to to remedy this practice so that it is beneficial to all. I love the expressions on the faces of your carvings, yet I “feel” for the trees as I would “feel” for a person or a dog had I found them “skinned and scarred”.

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