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Out of the woodwork

Caloosa Carvers transform Mound House tree into treasure.

May 16, 2018
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The strangler fig at the Mound House took a hard hit during Hurricane Irma.

The oldest section of the tree weakened with the force of the wind, and it split from the trunk and fell.

But thanks to the work of two Lee County woodworkers, the fallen section of the tree is living a new life.

Article Photos

John Franz shows off his finished bowl, filled with hand-carved foods the Calusa Indians may have eaten.

John Franz and Henry Robinson of the Caloosa Carvers group volunteered to transform a few slices of the dead tree into something new.

"Its history will live on," said Mound House Director Alison Giesen.

At the end of January, the men had someone cut the dead section of the tree into thick slices, and they picked their favorites to work with for their projects.

Franz carved a bowl from one slice of wood, drilling down into the wood and chipping away to hollow out the inside. Then he sanded it smooth and used a light stain to maintain the color and grain of the wood.

He also hand-carved "food" to put inside the bowl, things the Calusa Indians may have eaten, such as fish, shrimp and oysters. He hand-painted each item. The bowl will be given back to the Mound House to use as a display in the museum.

Robinson made the table, a simple small side table showcasing the fig's wood grain. The project wasn't difficult - but the wood was. The fig wood was still very damp, even though it had been months since the hurricane.

The two men started their projects in February, and Robinson was still waiting for the wood to dry in April before he could apply a stain and finish the table. As it dried, some spots began to crack, but Robinson was able to maintain the integrity of the wood.

At some point, Giesen is planning to sell the table and other items made out of the fig's remains as a fundraiser for the Mound House.

The Caloosa Carvers come to the Mound House during season and set up a table outside, working on their projects where visitors can observe.

The group has made multiple display pieces for the Mound House; they're also working on a replica boat like one the king of the Calusa might have ridden in while other men rowed.

For Robinson, woodworking is second-nature. The Ohio native used to own his own business building custom counters and showcases in Akron. In 2003, he and his wife, Mary, moved down to Florida permanently, so he brought along some of his equipment and started doing projects around town. He's built a pulpit for the Lee Boulevard Baptist Church. He also makes "cut outs" for carvers - cutting a the basic shape from a block of wood so that a carver can more easily hone in on the detailed design.

For Franz, woodworking is a newer hobby. He also retired to Florida in 2003 and attended a wood carving show shortly after his move.

"I thought I'd like to try it," he said.

He joined the Carvers group and started to learn the skills of the trade, learning from more experienced carvers and picking up the knack for it quickly. Now, he enters his own work into carving shows and has won Best in Show in the masters category in the Wood Art Expo.

"I had an aptitude," he said.

As for the strangler fig tree, Giesen said it's alive and well. It's been nicknamed "The Warrior" because of its resilience and its dominating, iconic presence on the mound.

"The fig is doing well, the shade is coming back and the roots are touching down," she said. "An arborist visits to check on its health."



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