New life for an old tree

The once-beautiful giant maple tree showed no sign of recovery and was declared dead.

Watching it perish for two years on the front lawn of her law firm next to Tacoma’s Wright Park saddened Virginia DeCosta and her husband, Marc Ross. The tree had likely stood there since 1888, the same year the Queen Anne-style Yuncker Manor that now houses the law firm was built.

Rather than cut down the entire tree and cart the remains away, the couple commissioned a rebirth.

DeCosta, born and raised in Hawaii, wanted to share her love of sea life with the Tacoma community — in particular, the native islanders’ reverence for sea turtles.

“The tree was loved by the community and visitors to Wright Park,” DeCosta said. “My goal was to give back a piece of art that came from my heart. We wanted to give the tree a new life in a different way.”

While most of the approximately 100-foot tree was felled and removed, DeCosta and Ross kept the stump and five 15-foot tall trunks emanating from it.

Enter Bruce “Thor From the Earth” Thorsteinson. The self-described wanderer and gypsy chainsaw artist had never worked on a piece quite so large and complex.

Now, the art that Thorsteinson is creating — a family of three sea turtles, a school of fish swimming through sea grass, and a dolphin — stops passers-by in their tracks.

Thorsteinson, 51, graduated from Federal Way’s Thomas Jefferson High School in 1982 and has fashioned chainsaw art all over the world. He says he attends 15 to 17 shows a year, his favorite a competition in England at the Queen’s summer home in 2004.

“We sat around a bonfire at night and people played fiddles and passed around hard cider,” he said. “It was pretty magical.”

Thorsteinson loves the artform even if it doesn’t pay the rent. He lives in his van and in the homes of family and friends as he “wanders and creates.”

“I don’t know if I make a living, but I do have a life,” he said. “I’m fairly faith-based and I always leave creations behind me.”

The law firm project has been a challenge because of its size and the durability of the maple.

“It’s the most beautiful wood I’ve ever worked with but I didn’t expect it to be as hard as it is,” Thorsteinson said. “It’s been tool- and back-breaking work.”

He started carving the piece Nov. 7 and still has a ways to go, including sanding and applying oil. But he’s in no rush and has a stock answer for the impatient.

“I’ve been giving people the Michalangelo answer,” Thorsteinson said. “When the pope kept asking him when the Sistine Chapel (ceiling) was going to be complete, he said, ‘When it’s finished.’ ”

He hopes any publicity the work generates might help him locate his father, Larry, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and walked out of a retirement home in Morton about two years ago.

“He’s missing four fingers on his left hand,” Thorsteinson said. “The last time anyone saw him was when a tractor-trailer driver picked him up in Portland.

“Either way, I know he’s with the Lord.”