Next Generation Sculpture

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On September 3, 2002, Village of Mount Prospect officials unveiled a unique sculpture created by Michigan artist Jack Eppinga. The sculpture, called “Next Generation,” was carved from the trunk of one of Mount Prospect’s largest trees. It can be seen at Moehling Park, the Village’s new pocket park located on Pine Street between Central Road and Northwest Highway (next to the Capannari Ice Cream Store).

“Next Generation” depicts an elderly woman with her grandson, pausing before a grove of large trees. The boy stands ready to plant the small tree seedling being given to him by his grandmother. Several symbols of the woman’s lifelong love of nature-- an owl, squirrel, songbird and raccoon--look on.

The idea for the sculpture was conceived in 2000 by the Village’s Forestry/Grounds Superintendent, Sandy Clark. She sees the sculpture both as a memorial to earlier generations, and a sign of hope for the future. “I’m hoping that ‘Next Generation’ will invoke gratitude toward our forebears who had the foresight to plant and care for trees that would benefit future Mount Prospect residents. These men and women recognized their duty to pass along a sense of stewardship to the generations who followed. I also hope that ‘Next Generation’ will inspire today’s youth to carry on the traditions begun by their elders, and to know that they can positively impact the future through their actions today,” Clark said.

The American Elm tree whose trunk was eventually carved to make the sculpture had been growing for many years in the parkway at 118 S. Albert Street. It was cut down in March 2001. At that time the tree was Mount Prospect’s largest parkway American Elm. Its trunk measured 52 inches in diameter and its branches spread for more than 100 feet. By counting the stump’s growth rings, the Public Works Forestry Division determined that the tree had been approximately seventy-five years old. Thus, it was likely one of the first trees planted in Mount Prospect in the years following the Village’s incorporation in 1917.

Clark noted recently that she first became aware of the tree not long after beginning her career with the Forestry Division in 1977. “We received a call from the residents who lived at 118 S. Albert Street, Robert and Olga Strauch. They were very concerned about the tree’s health and condition, and asked that we make every effort to preserve it.” According to Clark, “Although the main trunk of the tree was beginning to split apart, we installed steel cables to help support the weight of the upper limbs. We also did some special pruning to try to lighten the weight of the limbs but still preserve the “vase-like” shape that is so characteristic of American Elms.”

Unfortunately, over the years as the tree continued to grow, decay was advancing in the center of the trunk, and the cracks noted in the ‘70s continued to grow. The steel cables kept breaking, and each time the Forestry crew replaced them. Clark and her staff became increasingly concerned that the tree was becoming a safety hazard. Its large size and spreading form assured that if a major limb fell, the result could easily be serious property damage, or personal injury or even death. “I think I was in denial for awhile, because I really didn’t want to remove this magnificent tree,” Clark said. “Eventually, with great reluctance, I decided that I couldn’t in good conscience allow the tree to remain. Mrs. Strauch and I both cried the day I broke the news to her.”

Fortunately, though, in the meantime a series of events had occurred that would result in the preservation of the historic tree’s trunk. About a year before the tree was cut down, Clark had clipped and filed a newsletter article which showed how a “chainsaw artist” had carved the trunk of a dead tree into a sculpture. When the elm on Albert was eventually scheduled for removal, she remembered the article and decided to investigate whether this was a feasible option for this tree.

Although it took some time, eventually Clark met Jack Eppinga, also known as “Bearclaw Jack.” Eppinga is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, but works periodically in the Chicago area. In January 2002 Clark was given authorization to proceed with the sculpture, and hired Eppinga to begin work immediately.

At the same time, the Village had been proceeding since 1999 with the design and installation of a new downtown park on Pine Street. The park was located next to the building that had served as Mount Prospect’s first General Store at a location on Route 83 and Northwest Highway, had subsequently been moved and restored and was now home to Capannari Ice Cream.

Clark’s supervisor, Public Works Director Glen Andler, decided that the sculpture would fit in nicely with the park’s historical background. Keith Kuhn, one of Clark’s staff, had prepared the landscape design for the park. Even though the installation of the landscaping had already begun, early in 2002 Clark asked him to change the design slightly to accommodate the new sculpture. Eppinga was hired, and after the Forestry Crew transported the 8000-pound log to the Public Works Building, the carving began.

Eppinga used a variety of chainsaws and sanders to create the sculpture. Day by day, details began to emerge. Besides the grandmother and boy, Eppinga created the various animals hiding in the grove. He also added a variety of leaves, selecting species typical of those growing along Mount Prospect’s streets. “I think Jack had initially estimated he would only need about four days to complete the sculpture,” Clark said. “But I could tell when he saw the size of the log that he was really excited about the project. As it turns out, he kept adding more and more detail, and he spent a great deal of time making sure everything was just right.”

The sculpture was ready by May to be moved to the park site. Through a unique combination of efforts from the Village’s Engineering, Vehicle Maintenance and Forestry Divisions, a plan was devised to transport and place the sculpture. After a specially designed steel plate was built and attached to its base, the sculpture was lifted with a crane onto a tractor. Then it made the trip on its side down Central Road to the park. There it was gingerly placed on a concrete base specially designed to support its weight.

Since then, the sculpture for the most part has remained covered with a tarp, awaiting completion and dedication of the park. “We sure have gotten a lot of questions about what’s under the tarp,” Clark said. “Some kids speculated that it was a huge ice cream cone, due to the ice cream store that is now operating out of the old General Store Building. We sure hope that now it’s finally unveiled, people will feel it was worth the wait.”