A woman approached Tim Gill recently in Cutright Park on Chillicothe’s riverfront as he worked on a sculpture he was commissioned by the city to create.
She directed his attention to a tree across the river upon which were perched two American bald eagles.
“Well then, I guess this is a pretty appropriate piece for this park,” Gill told the woman.
It wasn’t an Asian carp that Gill was creating. He was sculpting an eagle with a 10-foot wingspan descending on a pile of rocks out of the 13-foot stump of a chopped-down cottonwood tree on the banks of the Illinois River. Instead of the more common sculptor’s tools of a hammer and a chisel, Gill used a Stihl chainsaw.
“(Mayor Troy Childers) called me and said the city was interested in me coming down and taking a look at the stump and seeing if it was carveable,” Gill said. “The way the stump split off into a ‘Y’ at the top I thought about carving two eagles fighting, but the mayor said ‘give us the biggest eagle you can.’ So that’s what I did.”
Gill, who lives in Edelstein, has been carving wood figures with a chainsaw for about eight years. The past four years it has been his full-time job. Eagles are an especially popular as a subject matter.
“I tell people this is my first eagle, but it isn’t. I couldn’t tell you how many I’ve carved,” Gill said. “Two hundred maybe?”
He is a familiar figure in Chillicothe driving around town with a carving of a bipedal coyote standing in the bed of his pickup truck that looks a lot like Wile E. Coyote. Gill calls the carving merely “Coyote” to avoid any trademark issues.
The truck sports the web address of his business, stumpcarver.com, in several prominent spots. Gill spent a little more than four days to carve the eagle at Cutright Park, with people stopping by each day to mark the progress. It was an instant hit with the townspeople.
“It’s amazing what he was able to do,” Childers said of Gill’s work for the city. “People have been telling me how much they enjoy it and what a perfect piece it is for the city of Chillicothe.”
Childers said a sculpture that size would typically cost $1,400, but Gill charged only $1,000 for the eagle, and that money was raised by private donations. “He made his own donation to the city,” Childers said.
The city is looking to make the park more open and accessible to residents. Last summer it paid to have a 90-year-old grain elevator torn down and has plans for a pavilion and boat docks.
“The statue really adds to what we’re trying to do down here,” Childers said.
Gill said the statue has been weather-protected with several coatings of oil and stain and he’ll continue to monitor its wear and oil it a couple of times a year to make it last.
“It turned out to be a pretty good piece of wood,” Gill said. “Cottonwood’s not the best, but it’s not the worst either. That whole stump could have been almost hollow and impossible to carve. But it turned out nice.”
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or at email@example.com.