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A major storm toppled trees on Peaks Island. This artist saw it as an opportunity.

A strong storm brought down many old and big trees on Peaks Island. Now one artist is giving new life to one of the stumps.

PORTLAND, Maine — This past fall, a storm rolled through Peaks Island, with strong winds toppling many trees in its wake.

"This was one of the trees that came down," Doug Smith, a book illustrator, said. "I've been drawing very careful meticulous art for decades. On the other hand, it means that I am always at home in my studio alone." 

Many years ago, he carved one tree and decided to take on the challenge by carving a stump in his hometown of Peaks Island.

Since early October, the illustrator has been working on the Norway maple tree stump right outside Baba's Cafe. 

"I wanted it to stop being a sad stump and be something people could give it kind of a new life if you will," Smith said.

Credit: Doug Smith

The sculpture will serve as a new public piece of art for the community. 

"You can see that they are enjoying it," Smith said, referencing the people who stopped by to talk with him while he was working on the piece.

Many people initially guessed it was a Mammoth or an elephant, but Smith makes sure they stand a few steps back, take a close look at the design, and keep guessing. 

For Smith, this project is a way for him to socialize with people, which is something he rarely does when at home working on his illustrations. He said the interactions with residents, visitors, kids, and neighbors, have made the process more exciting and entertaining.

"I found that it was the most social thing I'd ever done," the artist said.

Natasha Markov-Riss co-owns Baba's Cafe on Island Avenue in Peaks and was thrilled when Smith approached her with the idea to turn the stump into a work of art.

"It kind of embodies the spirit of the sea, so it seems very appropriate for us to have it here," Markov-Riss said.

"Half of the fun is seeing it emerge. You are passing by all the time, then you see it a little bit more and a little bit more, and finally you see it," Smith said. 

"Wait a minute! Octopus? Yeah! Wow! It's going to be an Octopus? Yes! I love octopus! Beautiful!" a group of people who guessed while staring at the artwork in awe. 

"It's kind of meditative, for all the hard work it is," Smith said.

"One of the goals was for it to be kind of a community hub and a pleasant space, a beautiful space for people to go and drink coffee and hang out, and this was kind of exactly what our goal was," Markov-Riss stated.

Doug said he will be working on the piece until it gets too cold or starts snowing. When that happens, he will tarp the creation and finish it up next year.

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