Artist Marlin Miller is on the Mississippi Gulf Coast to spruce up some of the sculptures he created from trees battered by Hurricane Katrina. MPB’s Evelina Burnett caught up with him as he worked on a sculpture in Biloxi.
Wood sculptor Marlin Miller uses a grinder to clean up the exterior surface of a sculpture in the median of Highway 90 in Biloxi. It is a sweeping image of 4 eagles and a whale tale, sculpted on a standing but dead tree trunk killed, like many of the coast’s old trees, by Hurricane Katrina.
Miller initially came to Biloxi in 2007 to create just a few wood sculptures. Living in Ft Walton, Florida, he was familiar with the impact of hurricanes and thought this could be a chance to help the coast.
"As an artist, from out of the area, to be a catalyst maybe and in a token way, to help rebuild," he says.
That initial project eventually turned into a three to four year effort, with Miller donating his time to create dozens of tree sculptures from virtually one end of the Mississippi coast to the other.
Miller says the trees often inspired the final work.
"I look at the tree, and I see the completed sculpture," he says. "Some people think it would take a lot of patience, or just being very determined, but it doesn't feel like that. When I'm carving it, it feels like I'm just along for the ride, and everything seems to flow and the saws just seem to glide. I feel like a painter on the beach."
Susan Varnes of Treasure Bay casino says the trees are now an attraction for visitors and served as an inspiration for many.
"For those of us who lived through Katrina, afterwards were some pretty dark days," she says. "So as the sculptures started to emerge, it was really uplifting to see something so beautiful come out of something so dark and devastating.
After Miller finishes cleaning up the exterior of this and other trees in Biloxi, the city will spray a coat of varnish on them to help protect them for many more years.