A tree falls, a mermaid rises

Marco resident turns tree stump into a work of art

Lance Shearer
This is what Norfolk pine looked like before homeowner Steve Hackman cut it down.

Thousands of trees on Marco Island were felled by Hurricane Irma. This is the story of one that did not – sort of.

The tree in question, a Norfolk Island pine in the front yard of local realtor and Kendall Drive resident Steve Hackman, was actually cut down intentionally prior to the storm. Standing in front of his house about 50 ft. tall, as wide around as a barrel and with a pronounced scoliosis-like curvature, the tree was likely to fall and cause damage, and just didn’t seem to be adding to the esthetics of his home, Hackman figured. So he decided to turn the pine tree into art.

“It had this curve, and it dropped a ton of branches all the time,” Hackman said. “We wanted to make something unique rather than just cut down a 40-year-old tree. So I thought, ‘What about a mermaid?’ I’ve done some carving myself, and I thought that would work. It was either a mermaid or an angel.”

Rather than create the work himself, Hackman researched woodcarvers who had done or could do carvings of mermaids, and found sculptor, artist and designer Elvis Caron, who lives in Largo, Fla.

“I talked to three or four guys, but I knew when I talked to Elvis he was the one,” Hackman said. “He got it.”

“I loved the idea of this, and it fits,” Caron said. “Mermaids were the angels of the sea, according to sailors.”

Accompanied by his son and assistant Miles Caron, 15, the sculptor came down, planned his attack and went to work. Miles is home-schooled, and was able to continue his lessons online during the carving process – and besides, what could be more educational than witnessing and participating in a project such as this?

Sculptor Elvis Caron works on the base of the piece. Hackman commissioned a sculpture of a mermaid carved from the trunk of a Norfolk pine that he cut down in anticipation of Hurricane Irma.

Like Michelangelo carving his David from a deeply gouged block of marble, Caron had to work with the shape the tree gave him. He sketched out his design, stripped the bark away from the tall stump of the tree, erected his scaffolding and went to work. He used grinders and chainsaws for the bulk of the cutting – a larger one for roughing out the piece and a 12 inch Stihl model for finer work – along with Dremel tools, mallet and chisel for finishing details.

“You can always cut more off, but you can’t put anything back on,” he said. “You have to take your time.”

Caron has carved a number of Polynesian-flavored tiki figures from wood, as well as Native American-inspired totem-like pieces, but this is his first actual mermaid, he said. He also creates illustrations, graphic and web designs, murals and other paintings, and has a website elviscaron.com.

Both Caron and Hackman said the reaction had been strongly positive to the “street art" with drivers indicating their approval with thumbs up signs and waves. Hackman said he had hoped that the creation in his front yard would stimulate others on the island to commission similar pieces, and that appears to be happening. One of his neighbors down Kendall Drive, he said, had talked with Caron and was likely to turn a tree on his property, that had been felled by Irma, into a sculpture of his own.

Marco homeowner Steve Hackman stands before the partially completed piece. Hackman commissioned a sculpture of a mermaid carved from the trunk of a Norfolk pine that he cut down in anticipation of Hurricane Irma.

The finished piece will be coated with a sealer, perhaps linseed oil or polyurethane, to help it last in the sub-tropical environment, and stand guard over the Hackman residence. Hackman pronounced himself very satisfied with his venture into the role of patron of the arts.

“It wasn’t cheap, but I think his price was very fair,” said Hackman, pegging the cost at “a couple of thousand” dollars. They were still thinking about a name, but his wife Shirlean wanted to call her “Irmaiden,” he said.

To view Marco Island’s latest venture into environmental sculpture, head down Kendall Drive from Collier Boulevard, and just before the bridge after Hernando Drive, cast your eyes to the left at the mermaid rising above you.