SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 28, 2013

Elm tree legacy to live on in art, furniture

By Jonathan Phelps
Staff writer

---- — IPSWICH — Many mourned as the grand American elm tree on East Street came down two summers ago. But its legacy will live on.

After years of treatment for Dutch elm disease, the tree was deemed unsafe and was taken down in July 2012.

But the wood was collected and will be distributed to interested artisans, woodworkers, furniture-makers and builders to make various items. The town’s Shade Tree and Beautification Committee is taking applications from those interested in using some of the wood.

“That elm tree was one the last largest elm trees in town, maybe the region,” said Janet Craft, secretary of the committee and past president of the Ipswich Garden Club. “It was a tree many residents knew and loved.”

The artist submissions will determine what the wood will be used for. Ideas include furniture for the library, benches or a podium for Town Meeting. The committee will meet this week to review applications, but there is no deadline for submissions.

Several large cross-sections of the tree have been set aside for a tree ring project, which will note the timeline of the tree’s growth, estimated to span 250 years. The wood needs to be seasoned for a year and half to two years before this can be done.

Craft said the wood has been tested and is disease-free.

Proposed projects that have a public benefit will take priority in the selection process, Craft said.

If an artist decided to sell his or her work, the committee is asking for a donation to go toward future beautification projects in town.

The idea to distribute the wood followed a ceremony that commemorated the tree.

“After that ceremony, a number of people came forward and were interested in what was happening with the wood,” Craft said.

The committee decided to come up with an application process.

The tree has a storied history in town. Late author John Updike even wrote about it. Updike and his family lived at 26 East St. in the 1960s, directly across from the elm.

For years, the Department of Public Works treated the tree to fight off the advancing stages of Dutch elm disease, until it was determined that its limbs posed a hazard for both pedestrians and motorists.

“In the last two years, it began to suffer,” Craft said. “We knew it wouldn’t make it.”

Applications to submit proposals can be found on the town’s website, ipswichma.org.

Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at jphelps@salemnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.