Local News

Artist, chainsaw transform tree into hoops tribute

Posted May 22, 2009 6:53 p.m. EDT

— Some would argue Chapel Hill is rooted in basketball, and artist Dwight Bassett hopes to make that statement a reality.

Bassett, Chapel Hill's economic development director, is a woodworker whom town officials recently approached with an unusual proposition: Make a fitting tribute to the University of North Carolina's national champion basketball team out of a 7-foot-tall tree stump.

"The town manager and the mayor were having lunch and said, 'You know, we need to do something cool with that. That needs to represent the championship some how,'" Bassett said Friday.

An arborist recommended two years ago that the green ash tree at the intersection of Franklin and Columbia streets be taken down. It was so heavily damaged during last month's celebration of the national championship that crews had to cut off its branches, leaving only the tall, slender stump.

"I'm seeing an arm outreached from a column. It's almost going to look trophy-like," Bassett said as he took a chainsaw to the stump to carve out his vision.

Passersby were befuddled by the activity.

"How are they going to get a basketball out of something so skinny?" Ron Claybo asked.

"What is that?" Domenick Powell said.

As the sculpture started to emerge, onlookers began to appreciate Bassett's work.

"Oh, that's kind of cool. Yeah, that's kind of neat," Claybo said.

Bassett said it will take him several days to finish the carving. He said he's never had a project like this and has never faced so much pressure.

"Everybody is watching me. Everybody keeps coming by going, 'What are you doing?'" he said.

Town officials said the tree sculpture would be temporary, but it was unclear how long it would stay on Franklin Street.