NEBRASKA CITY – An oak tree believed to pre-date the U.S. Declaration of Independence was taken down after a series of damaging storms in Nebraska City, but its sounds are still echoing at Arbor Day Farm.

The tree was selected for Nebraska City’s prestigious tree award in 2005, when Ken and Alice Clark told the story of a visit by an elderly woman who remembers the tree’s shade covering her house in 1927. Rod Edwards, then an agroforestry manager at Arbor Day Farm, measured the tree circumference at 13 feet and nine inches and its height at 72 feet.

 

The black oak’s hard bark allowed it to survive prairie fires and Edwards confirmed the Clark’s calculations  that the tree was probably growing at Nebraska City before 1776.

The 270-year-old tree was hollow and badly damaged when it was cut down  in 2021, but Arbor Day Farm recognized its value.

To celebrate the 150th Arbor Day and the 50th year of the Arbor Day Foundation, they brought in musician and sculpture artist Jayson Fann to turn the stump into a public art display.

Fann: “I’ve been inside of this tree -  carving it out and hollowing, it was partially hollow. I’ve removed quite a lot of wood.

"So I’ve been in there with chain saws and grinders and now we’re starting to sand the drum and pull out a lot of the beautiful natural grain that’s in this black oak.

"It will have a second life, instead of being burned in somebody’s wood stove. It will end up being a beautiful artifact of Nebraska history.”

 

 

Fann: “It sounds like a bee hive in here,  you know, throughout the day. There’s people in here just buzzing all around this piece and sanding and sanding. The more we sand the more soft and silky the wood will become.”

Jeremy Polanco and Ava Clarke were among volunteers sanding the drum.

Polanco: “To be frank, I barely know what’s going on. I just know I need to get rid of bark and this is going to somehow turn into a drum, so pretty excited for that.”

Clarke: “That’s what we are doing here, just sanding it down, whittling away at the bark to start the process of building this drum.”

Fann has combined his love of music and sculpture to build sculptural set designs for major symphony orchestras and has studied drumming in cultures across many continents.

Fann: “The tree is such a natural – most of our musical instruments come from trees – and all of our early drums come from trees. The first drums really came just like this. There was a hollow tree and somebody skinned an animal and threw it over the log one day and it dried and then they noticed hey, this has a sound, it’s resonating. So, the drum is a combination of the spirit of the tree and the animal and the person playing it and  you combine all of that together and you have this perfect storm.”

The drum is topped by a male buffalo hide that will cast an amber glow from a light inside the drum.

Fann: “This drum will be featured inside one of the lodges here, so that it will be protected from the weather and it will something that is part of the legacy of Arbor Day and as an example of what people can do will beautiful natural wood.”