31 Sculptures: Amboy City Park Tree Carvings

Storm-ravaged trees in Amboy, Illinois, City Park are chainsaw-carved into beautiful sculptures of wildlife, famous people, and local landmarks.

By Chris Dunmire | Updated 8/4/15

Enjoy my online photo exhibit showcasing the collection of 31 Amboy City Park Tree sculptures. Tourists and locals alike may enjoy the slideshow and download the free souvenir map I designed with approximate locations of the chainsaw carved trees in the park. The story behind the carvings follows in my piece, Storm-Ravaged Trees Transformed Into Wooden Wonders.

Click to See Slide Show
Click to See Slide Show »

Storm-Ravaged Trees Transformed Into Wooden Wonders

A natural disaster turns into an artful attraction in a small Illinois town.

On June 22, 2015, a string of EF-2 tornadoes touched down in Sublette, Illinois, slamming ferociously into sections of Woodhaven Lakes, a private family campground that's been part of my life since age three.

My family spent weekends and entire summer vacations at Woodhaven. I learned how to swim in its pools and fish in its lakes. I woke up early to ride my bike to arts 'n crafts classes and stayed up late watching Disney movies on the lakefront. I met my best friend Ruth there when I was nine. She stood up in my wedding and I in hers. Woodhaven is near and dear to me, and the night the tornadoes hit, Ruth called me to tell me it was on the news.

Amboy, IllinoisI've always liked thunderstorms at Woodhaven, but these storms were different. They mowed down life and limb without prejudice (no human casualties) leaving behind a twisted mess of metal and glass. Some property owners lost everything; others nothing; and lots of in-between. Grotesquely-sheared trees with ripped-off limbs and torn-away tops leaned battered in the aftermath like soldiers reeling on a battlefield.

Shock and sadness hung in the air for days as emergency triages were formed and attended to. It made national news. Then the clean-up started, which continues today with months of restoration ahead. The emotional toll cannot be tallied, but it hit the community hard and is a sober reminder to cherish what's important because it can be snatched away in a moment.

I've lived in Northern Illinois all of my life and tornadoes, expected like California earthquakes, haunt me every time they arrive. I have so many stories: My retired friend Dave is a survivor of the 1967 Belvidere tornado that claimed 24 lives, mostly children. He was a senior at the high school it hit, just seven weeks from graduation, sitting in the backseat of a car in the school's circle drive. The car lifted and turned upside down. He had glass in his hair for days and tells me he thought he was going to die. Ruth was nearly swept up in the 1990 Plainfield tornado on her way home from work. And the tornado that wiped out the town of Fairdale recently hit only miles from where I live. I have only one recurring nightmare: Tornadoes.

Woodhaven-Amboy Connection

Woodhaven is just five minutes from Amboy, Illinois, a stone's throw away from where residents experienced a similar heart-wrenching storm in 1999. In this scenario, the violence ripped through town cutting down dozens of the area's treasured 100-year-old oak trees. These stately trees, many located in the Green River City Park were deeply rooted in the town's history going back to the mid-1800s where most large, celebratory events took place -- Old Settler's Picnic, Derby Days, and Lee County Fair.

Mourning the loss of these sacred trees cast a dark shadow over Amboy residents, but what they did next in response to the devestation makes my heart soar.

Pat Brady, contributor to Amboy Illinois: First 150 Years 1854–2004, a coffee-table book filled with the town's local history, news articles, and personal stories from long-time residents writes:

“On June 1, 1999, disaster struck the park when it was hit by a violent thunderstorm which left parts of the city and the Green River City Park virtually destroyed. Between 50 and 60 trees were destroyed and another 50-60 were severely damaged.

“The city was devastated by the loss of so many of its venerable oak trees. It took weeks to clean up the damage, but some of the trees were saved by the insight of a local man, George Kaleel. Kaleel suggested hiring Marie and Bob Boyer, former residents of Amboy, who were known for their chainsaw work. The Boyers came in with their chainsaws and made beautiful works of art out of many of the damaged trees. […] The park now contains dozens of beautifully carved works of art and has become quite a tourist attraction.”

Sadly, Marie Boyer died of cancer in 2010, but her creative contributions will continue to inspire. The News Tribune writes:

“[Marie] was best known for the chainsaw carvings she created in Amboy City Park. She and her husband also contributed a wood carving to the Home Improvement television show and contributed to Country Magazine. She also worked with Pat Spielman, the author of many woodworking books.”

This inspiring example of creating from chaos, of allowing the light of possibility to shine through the darkness of defeat, set me into action. The creative innovation applied in the Amboy tree tragedy-turned-treasures inspired me to create the photo documentary at the top of this page.

My desire to help preserve the legacy of these wooden wonders before time and tide take their toll has not been in vain. A few carvings in the slideshow and on the map no longer exist. Documenting them before they disappeared was my intention: They may be gone, but not forgotten. •

©2005-2016 Chris Dunmire, All rights reserved.

 [ C L O S E     W I N D O W ]