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Totem pole in Astoria no monkey business

Couple turns dead tree into art
By Jack Heffernan

The Daily Astorian

Published on September 7, 2017 7:42PM

Last changed on September 8, 2017 6:25AM

After a century-old monkey puzzle tree died in their front yard last year, an Astoria couple decided to let a Portland-based designer and fabricator turn it into a work of art.

Colin Murphey/The Daily Astorian

After a century-old monkey puzzle tree died in their front yard last year, an Astoria couple decided to let a Portland-based designer and fabricator turn it into a work of art.

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A dead monkey puzzle tree in the front yard of an Astoria couple’s house has been turned into a work of art by an artist from Portland.

Colin Murphey/The Daily Astorian

A dead monkey puzzle tree in the front yard of an Astoria couple’s house has been turned into a work of art by an artist from Portland.

Buy this photo

After a beloved monkey puzzle tree died in their front yard, an Astoria couple put some brains together to create a work of art.

Bill Griesar and Robert Duehmig — who serves on the Clatsop Community College board — pondered ways to make something good come from the death last year of the century-old tree on the corner of Eighth Street and Grand Avenue.

Griesar, who teaches neuroscience at Portland State University and Oregon Health & Science University, had an usual idea — one that is a few weeks away from coming to fruition.

Since spring, Portland designer and fabricator Matt Cartwright has been carving their vision: a totem pole representing brains of Northwest animals. Since the initial phase of the carving was completed earlier this week, people have stopped by the house to ask questions about what Griesar jokingly calls the other Astoria Column.

“We thought we would create something that people would pay attention to, ask questions and be curious about,” Griesar said. “It makes people swivel their heads around.”

From top to bottom, the carving depicts brains of a salmon, raven, sea lion, bear, human and humpback whale. By the end of October, Cartwright plans to add a stainless steel neuron that synapses with itself around the tree underneath the brains. Finally, he will carve a cortex — the most visible part of the brain.

“Like our own brains, it is still forming,” Griesar said.

The steel neuron will include information about the brains as well as a quote based on the 19th-century words of Nobel Prize-winning Spanish pathologist Santiago Ramón y Cajal: “Everyone, if they so desire, can become sculptor of their own brain.”



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