Carving Destin’s iconic magnolia tree into a memorial will be a labor of love for artist Marlin Miller.
A world renowned tree sculptor, the Fort Walton Beach man rarely carves locally as he tries to keep a low profile in Northwest Florida. But this project was personal for Miller.
"My wife and her friends used to play under that tree," he explained. "I'm doing this one locally because it fits the criteria of what I do, and the fact that my wife's father owned some charter boats down there."
Most recognized for his work in transforming the damaged great oaks of Biloxi and New Orleans into glorious animal sculptures after hurricane Katrina in 2005; Miller said he feels privileged to be carving the historic landmark.
He is carving the magnolia pro-bono in "the spirit of community” and giving back.
“It's bigger than money," he said.
Miller explained that he has never worked with a magnolia tree before, and is accustomed to the wider branches and trunks of live oaks.
"A lot of the tree is going to be cut away," Miller said. "It will be pretty reduced from what it is now, but the goal is to be as balanced and as dimensional as possible."
The sculpture will be carved out of the existing tree, right where it stands at the entryway to the Harborwalk Village development, and will feature brightly painted animals indigenous to Northwest Florida.
"It will have pelicans, blue herons, wispy seagulls, a school of mahi, marlin, and sail fish," said Miller, "I see in my mind how it's going to be."
Once the tree is sculpted, Miller plans to seal it in a spar varnish to hopefully keep it fresh for several years.
Brant Kelly, whose family owns the land that the Magnolia sits upon, said the memorial will honor the memory of the tree for Destin old-timers like himself, as he said, “All of them grew up climbing and living up in that tree.”
An auction will be held to benefit local charities as Kelly told The Log, “We are going to make a little blessing of the tree, cut parts of the tree off, number them and auction them off for a fundraiser.”
Carving of the Magnolia sculpture will begin Tuesday, March 25, and Miller plans to spend several weekends throughout the summer working on it. The public is invited to watch.
OVERHEARD ON THE WEB: Magnolia Tree
With a decline in health of Destin's famed magnolia tree clearly evident, some of The Log's Facebook friends took to social media to share their thoughts on the tree that was once an anchoring point for Leonard Destin's boat during storms. Here's what they had to say.
Pam Doughty: So sad. They can say "old age" all day long, but the rapid decline came about because of development.
Steve Shooter: From the article: "Bos told The Log that plans are in motion to erect a memorial for the tree". Irony abounds.. While you're at it, erect a memorial to Destin.
Phil Knight: Way to go Destin- you killed it!
Linda Meredith Carter: The tree was MUCH older than thought and an arborist from Atlanta (no bias) was brought in for the FINAL diagnosis...I think Destin will be proud to see what rises from the ruins of this wonderful Magnolia....it will be awork of art.....it amazes me to see how many "experts" are commenting as if their opinions were fact!! lol
Julian Pittman: Sad sad sad!
Royce Gibson: It was a direct result of having to dig a deeper than expected foundation for the tower, which introduced saltwater to the trees roots. To those who moved here in the last several years it is just a tree. Sadly, for long time locals, it is a metaphor for the Harbor itself.
Peter Burke: Bleeding hearts. Terrible developers are ruining destin. Come on people. The tree is old. Maybe some things contributed to its dying but who really knows. You moved here because of development. I doubt you live in a tent in the woods. Be passionate about something that matters, maybe like the soldiers that are still dying in the wasteland called Afghanistan .
Nonie Celeste: I find it ridiculous that Destin still has a "Tree City USA" sign. I'm gonna send this on to that organization.
Lori Ceier: "To cherish what remains of the Earth and to foster its renewal is our only legitimate hope of survival." - Wendell Berry
Frank J. Berte: ugh - I've seen this thing slowly croak over the past 5 years - its very sad...
Annette Burton: I hope they plant one of it's cuttings right next to it to grow another couple of centuries regardless of the reason for it's decline.
Steve Shippee: How about planting a semi-mature magnolia tree (about 10-12 ft tall) in the same spot? Linda, it sounds like you're saying what will replace that tree isn't going to be a living thing, but some kind of art project. Like something that won't produce oxygen but rather will probably consume it. One more thought - I've had the chance to watch what happens to the root base of magnolia trees in my own yard when the original stem was felled. What I've seen is that a whole bunch of new shoots arises from the base and begin to grow pretty quickly into a nice cluster of magnolias. From the one, arise many... that would be a nice legacy for the old mag, as well as a testament of the good things that happen over generations of Destin pioneers.
Brent Ford: I can't speak about "old Destin." My family has only lived here since 2006, but a lot has changed in that short time. I think the dying magnolia in a way is symbolic of what is happening to this town. Zip lines, helicopters landing on the harbor, the Dolly dinner theater, strip club, etc., all things you'd expect in PCB... NOT Destin!
Royce Dahnke: The "ole Nolia" as some of the old fisherman called it, she was always a way to tell when the kings were going to bite, the day the first bloom of the year opened you could expect the first kings to bite that day and after...