Windham-made tree to thrive in Rhode Island

Senior Noah Seavey polishes the classes' strip-wood tree before it is moved to Rhode Island on Friday. The tree will be installed in a Portsmouth coffee house. 

Students in the industrial arts class at Windham Christian Academy have made a tree out of trees.

The sculpture, made from strips of wood, was commissioned by Kristen Kidd, the owner of a Rhode Island coffee house, in the spring of 2014. After seeing the art class’ strip-wood boat at a Portland boat show, Kidd struck up a conversation with a crew from the academy.

A few months later, Kidd said, she was brainstorming preliminary plans for her coffee shop, and she had the idea of a tree. Kidd dug out the academy’s business card and called the office to discuss her vision for a strip-wood tree.

Two years later, the tree is complete and set to be installed in its new Rhode Island home. At 9 feet tall, the tree will look as though it is holding up the walls and ceiling of the cafe, which is opening for business in September.

In designing and building the tree, the industrial arts class drew mostly on their own inspiration, as “strip-wood tree” yielded few results on Google and definitely no blueprints. They also went right to the source, studying trees out in nature, senior Noah Seavey said. Seavey has worked on the project since its inception.

The base of their tree is a slab from a 50-year-old trunk, according to Seavey. The rest was constructed with plywood and covered with strips of red oak stapled to the trunk.

Covering the tree with thin strips of oak requires great precision, said Seavey, “because when you get close to finishing, you have to cut custom-fit pieces to make them all fit.”

It’s a little like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, but requires the measuring, sanding and cutting of the pieces. All of the construction was completed in a garage on the academy campus.

Five students in teacher Bob Berry’s industrial arts class were the ones to put the final touches on the tree, although other students have worked on it but have since graduated. This group of five and Berry will bring the tree to Rhode Island on May 20 to be installed at the cafe.

Berry said the materials for the tree cost $1,500, but he could not calculate the number of man-hours he and the students put in. Kidd covered the costs of materials, he said.

The inspiration for the tree originates with a country song by Christian rock group Casting Crowns called “Thrive,” said Kidd. The song also inspired the name of the cafe, Thrive Coffee House.

Kidd said the song meditates on thriving despite obstacles, through the metaphor of a tree that overcomes a harsh winter. In the song, the tree has roots as big as its branches, symbolizing that “it’s rooted firmly in the Lord,” said Berry.

In seeking out the Windham Christian Academy to build the tree, Kidd said, she was looking for artists who would understand and appreciate the religious symbolism of the tree.

To transport the tree, Berry and his crew will break it down into three pieces – the trunk and two limbs – that can fit in a trailer.

When the tree is installed, an artist will paint a canopy of leaves on the ceiling of the cafe, said Berry.

While the project at first seemed daunting, Seavey said, it has showed him, “if you have an idea that you want to make something, you can do it.”

Senior Noah Seavey polishes the classes’ strip-wood tree before it is moved to Rhode Island on Friday. The tree will be installed in a Portsmouth coffee house. 

The Industrial Arts class at Windham Christian Academy constructed a 9-foot tree out of strips of red oak. 

From left, teacher Bob Berry, Noah Seavey, Autumn Mauran, Tyler Homer and Sam Kramschuster stand under their tree. Not pictured is classmate Zeb Cleaves.