“The Big Tree is coming down, Dad you have to do something!”

In October of 2005, Steve Strompf’s two children came back from their school, the Mackay Elementary School in Tenafly, New Jersey in shock by the news. The 350-year-old white ash tree had to be cut down because it was dying and had become a serious safety issue.

After talking to the principal and some other parents from the school, Strompf decided to get a second opinion to find out exactly what the condition of the tree was from an expert. The tree was thoroughly examined by an arborist -- the diagnosis was confirmed that the tree was badly decayed and considered dangerous and needed to be removed immediately.

Strompf began to think, "How can we save this tree that is considered as a masterpiece of nature and part of Tenafly's History?" He thought of the one person that could at least save the spirit of the tree -- Mira Nakashima, the daughter of the world-renown woodworker George Nakashima, who are known for celebrating the natural beauty of trees in their furniture. It was an ideal connection to prevent the tree from being turned into mulch! 

Interested by the idea to create something out of this rare wood, Mira Nakashima asked John Kirlew, a sawyer, to give instructions on how to cut the tree so that the wood could be used to create a new masterpiece. With his advice, the town of Tenafly was able to rescue a log of approximately 15-feet long by 17-feet in circumference. This log was trucked to Kirlew’s sawmill in Doylestown, Pennsylvania where the wood would be cut to meet Mira Nakashima’s specifications. The wood needed to be dried for 3 years in order for it to be ready for Mira to work on her vision for the tree.

In the meantime, Strompf began to contact other artisans who were world-renown woodturners and woodworkers to see if they would be interested in using other large sections of the white ash tree that remained. The response was far beyond his expectations: Gary Knox Bennett, David Ellworth, J. Paul Fennell, Ron Fleming, William Hunter, Greg Jensen, John Jordan, Bonnie Klein, Bill Luce, Johannes Michelsen, Jere Osgood, Michael Peterson, Binh Pho, Mark Sfirri, Jacques Vesery, Wendy Maruyama all agreed to create a piece of art to help keep the spirit and essence of the tree alive.

Due to this overwhelming response, Strompf founded The Children’s Tree and Art Foundation, a 501-3C Public Charity. The Foundation currently owns the amazing collection of 17 works and will be responsible for exhibitions throughout the Tenafly Public Schools as well as museums where these artists usually exhibit. An educational program is now in development that will teach our children about the importance of the arts and environmental issues in the world -- which is the mission of the Foundation.

In May 2010 the entire collection will be presented for the first time to the public and will be displayed at the Mackay Elementary School in Tenafly and The Children’s Tree & Art Foundation, Inc. will be officially launched.
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