That’s no dead tree, that’s a piece of art |

That’s no dead tree, that’s a piece of art

A dying cottonwood tree in downtown Basalt will soon be transformed into a sculpture of a fisherman netting a trout. The Basalt Town Council has hired local artist Larry Lefner to do the job for $12,000. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.

To many people, it looked like a dying cottonwood tree. To the Basalt Town Council, it looked like art.Rather than just cut down a dying cottonwood on the corner of the most prominent intersection in town, the Basalt Town Council commissioned Woody Creek artist Larry Lefner to sculpt the towering remains of the trunk for $12,000.

The town staff and council selected Lefner’s proposed sculpture of a fisherman netting a trout. In his proposal, Lefner said he envisions using two forks of the trunk about 12 feet off the ground. One fork “would show a giant trout head emerging from the ‘river,'” Lefner wrote in his proposal. “The other fork would be the fly fisherman.” The trout head will be huge for visual effect.Lefner is well-known as a talented artist and sculptor. Some of his work is displayed at a small studio between the Woody Creek Tavern and Woody Creek Store. He anticipates getting under way early in November and finishing in around two months, depending on suitable weather.The tree is located at the intersection of Two Rivers Road and Midland Avenue, at Basalt’s four-way stop, in front of the Ute Center building. It started dying after that building was constructed. Basalt public works officials told the council the huge tree’s dead and dying limbs presented a safety hazard.

Basalt Councilman Glenn Rappaport proposed the idea of putting the dying tree to good use. “It came out of that old Western thing of a lot of people think it’s cool to hate cottonwoods,” Rappaport said. But for many others, that tree is a symbol of tenacity and sometimes subtle beauty of the West.The tree has been extensively trimmed but, to some extent, it remains alive. Rappaport proposed letting the trunk live rather than girdling it to kill it. Suckers and small branches may emerge from the sculpture – possibly from some interesting locations on the fisherman – but that will make it even more unique, Rappaport said.

“I think it will be an interesting object on this corner,” he said.The $12,000 is coming from the town’s tree maintenance fund in the public work’s budget. The town will pay $6,000 up front and $6,000 when the piece is finished.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is

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