From cottonwood to catch |

From cottonwood to catch

Scott Condon
Woody Creek resident Larry Lefner puts the finishing touches on the sculpture he carved from a cottonwood tree in downtown Basalt. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.

In a town renowned for its fishing guides, there’s a new guy who stands tall above all others in Basalt. And we’re talking really tall.The new guy doesn’t say much. In fact, people agree he’s a little stiff. But, boy, can he fish and he’s got a lunker to prove it.This new guide is a magnificent sculpture carved out of a massive cottonwood tree trunk by Woody Creek artist Larry Lefner. It adorns the busiest intersection in town, at the corner of Midland Avenue and Two Rivers Road.Lefner put the finishing touches on his creation yesterday, smearing carmel-colored wood stain on strategic places of the guide, like his fishing vest and hair.This sculpture is like no other in the Roaring Fork Valley. Its pedestal is a tree trunk 2 feet in diameter with a heavy layer of weathered bark scarred with the creases of a million furrowed brows.

The trunk juts up 20-some feet before it splits at a crotch. The largest of the two branches was transformed by Lefner into an 8-foot-tall fishing guide. His feet aren’t quite visible, just as they wouldn’t be if he were standing in water.The guide “wears” a standard-issue fishing vest. Lefner even managed to carve the flaps and buttons covering four pockets. A baseball cap, decorated only with a swirling knot in the cottonwood, and wooden sunglasses cover most of his face.The guide’s right hand clutches a fishing pole and his body is twisted above the waist and leaning to put more weight into a heft of the pole. In his left hand he is starting to raise a net that Lefner painstakingly carved using a diamond pattern.The guide’s mouth gapes in a look of anticipation and amazement that matches the expression of skiers when they stand on the rim of Highland Bowl on a big powder day.He wears the look for good reason. Carved into the smaller of the two branches is his prize – a cutthroat trout emerging from the water. Three feet of the big fish are getting yanked out of the water by a line attached to a pole that arcs in stress and strain over the entire scene. The yellow feather of an African marabou stork lure is visible in its wide mouth.

The piece, Lefner said, is called “Sandy Moore meets Goliath.” It’s named after his friend, Moore, a local fishing guide who modeled for the sculpture. The wooden guide actually has Lefner’s own crooked nose. But the tips of its middle finger and ring finger of the left hand are missing, just like Moore’s. Lefner said a bartender at the Woody Creek Tavern reminded him to include that subtle feature.Lefner toiled since Nov. 1 to finish this piece. He was commissioned to create the art by the Basalt town government. The Town Council voted to spend $12,000 to turn the trunk of the dying cottonwood into art rather than just hack it down.The tree trunk was surrounded for most of that time by scaffolding and a tarp that made it look like some great cathedral in Europe where the work never seems to stop.He used a custom-built chain saw, chisels and rounded gouges for his masterpiece. It made no difference to him that his work was silently critiqued by hundreds of observers who scurried by to school, work, the grocery store and a cup of coffee each day.Lefner kept his concentration while up on his perch yesterday applying stain while its pungent aroma stung the air, a steady stream of cars whined by and a newspaper reporter rattled on with questions.

He interrupted his work and looked away from the sculpture only when asked if the work on this piece was hard. He had a look of bewilderment.”Nothing’s hard,” he replied. “It’s fun and easy. It’s just a matter of solving a problem.”The sculpture will more or less earn its place Friday night as the signature landmark of Basalt. Kitty-corner from the sculpture, next to the chamber of commerce’s caboose is the peace tree, where hundreds of Basaltines will gather in a ceremony similar to the lighting of the Sardy House tree in Aspen.That’s when Sandy Moore and Goliath will really make their mark.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is