Podcast: Turning Destruction into Art, Galveston's Remarkable Tree Sculptures

More of a visual learner? Read the transcript of this week's Galveston Unscripted podcast episode below:

Tune in every Friday for a brand new episode of the Galveston Unscripted podcast.

Podcast Transcript

Hurricanes have always been a part of life on the Gulf Coast of Texas. Prior to the 1820s, Galveston was a barren sandbar. The native peoples, such as the Karankawa would've experienced Galveston's landscape in a completely different way. The island was covered with sand dunes, salt grasses, wildflowers, and very few trees. The complete opposite of the flora, vegetation, and type of trees we experience on the island today.

The island is essentially a sandbar, and before the seawall was constructed, the waters of the Gulf of Mexico would wash over the island unimpeded, making it extremely difficult for plant life that is not native to barrier islands to survive saltwater inundation from the storm surge of a hurricane.

For the past century or so, we've associated Palm trees, Oak trees, Magnolias, Pecan trees, and Oleanders with Galveston's landscape. It's important to remember that most of this plant life has been transported and transplanted to the island sometime in the past two centuries. After the devastating 1900 storm and the grade raising of the island that followed, thousands of trees and tons of topsoil were shipped to the island to bring the plant life back that had been destroyed by the hurricane and subsequent engineering projects. These trees were planted all over the urbanized portion of Galveston Island, where many of them stood strong until September 2008.

One of the most powerful hurricanes since the 1900 storm struck Galveston, Hurricane Ike. The storm surge was so powerful it inundated much of the island with saltwater from Galveston Bay. Hurricane Ike not only destroyed homes and property but was responsible for killing over 40,000 trees on the island. Many of the casualties were Galveston's beautiful oak trees.

In one of the areas hit hardest by the saltwater inundation, the East End Historic District, workers were busy for months cutting down the dead and dying oak trees, leaving four to eight-foot stumps. Some saw these stumps as unsightly, and others saw the stumps as an opportunity and a blank canvas. Galveston's resilience shined through once again.

Three artists, Earl Jones, Dale Lewis, and Jim Phillips. Started with the stumps in the East End Historic District and began carving artistic or historical figures into the oak tree stumps.

One of Galveston's most historic and well-preserved districts was transformed into an outdoor art exhibit. Graced by the likes of carvings of famous Galveston Boxer Jack Johnson, the Tin Man and Toto from the Wizard of Oz, lovable looking canines, sea creatures and birds of all kinds, musical instruments, and even a rendition of the figurehead of the 1877 tall ship Elissa. Today sculpting a tree in your front yard is not limited to the East End Historic District. You can find tree sculptures all over Galveston Island.

Galveston Island's landscape has been shaped by hurricanes. Its transformation from a barren sandbar to a lush tree-lined island is a testament to human resilience. Hurricane Ike, in 2008, devastated the island, destroying thousands of trees, but artists turned the stumps into beautiful works of art. Showcasing Galveston's creativity and ability to turn adversity into opportunity.

Click the image above to listen to more episodes of Galveston Unscripted podcast.


J.R. Shaw Creator & Host of Galveston Unscripted

J.R. Shaw is the creator and host of Galveston Unscripted Podcast & audio tour. Shaw recognizes that history is nuanced and learning it can be powerful. He's made it his mission to reduce the friction between true history and anyone who is willing to listen! J.R. Shaw focuses on telling the full story through podcasting and social media with the goal of making learning accurate history easy and entertaining for all who seek it.

J.R. grew up along the Texas Gulf Coast, where he learned to love talking with anyone about anything! He started Galveston Unscripted after he realized how much he loved talking to people about their stories related to Galveston Island and Texas History. "So much of our history is lost when we don't have the opportunity to hear from those who lived it or have second-hand knowledge."