Bel-Square history comes ‘Full Circle’

Much of downtown Bellevue’s history began beneath the branches of the old madrona tree.

Famed artist’s granddaughter creates carving from landmark cedar tree

Much of downtown Bellevue’s history began beneath the branches of the old madrona tree.

In the 1940s, the 60-foot tree was the tallest object in Bellevue’s skyline. As Bellevue Square was first built in 1946, the tree continued to grow along with the city.

The tree came to signify the heart of the community as it graced the front of the Crabapple Restaurant where locals hung out.

It also was the place where Kemper Freeman Sr. met Dudley Carter, an up and coming wood sculptor, during the first Artsfair. Freeman was moved by Carter’s work and commissioned “Forest Deity” that would become the first piece of public art in Bellevue.

So when construction of The Lodge at Bellevue Square was complete seven years ago, it only seemed fitting that Kemper Freeman Jr. find just the right piece of art to hang above the fireplace that would bring Bellevue’s history full circle.

Last Friday, Freeman gathered with Bellevue Arts Museum and community members at The Lodge to dedicate the new installation, done by Carter’s granddaughter, Anna Hanson.

Kemper Development commissioned Hanson to create a massive carving using inspiration from her grandfather’s final carving - and the legacy of the tree that started it all.

Entitled “Full Circle,” the wood carving of waterfowl bursting into flight wraps around the stone fireplace in The Lodge. Hanson carved the work from the nearly 6,000 pound atlantic cedar tree, which Kemper Freeman Sr. planted in the 60s to replace the beloved madrona tree that died in 1961.

When the madrona tree died, hundreds of residents came to watch it come down and were given pieces of the tree as a memento. During the dedication ceremony last Friday, Kemper Development officials gave community members small parcels containing wood chips from the atlantic cedar tree.

“The art has come full circle in many ways,” Freeman said of the new art piece during the event, which took place on the opening day of the 62nd Bellevue Arts Museum Artsfair.

He said the work represents a full circle between his family and the Carters who have worked together for several decades, as well as for the Artsfair where the families first met.

In 2007, the atlantic cedar needed to be removed to make way for a Bellevue Square expansion project. Kemper Development made the connection with Hanson, a sculptor who studied under her grandfather.

Hanson came from her British Colombia home to Bellevue to assess the tree and see if the wood would be appropriate for a large-scale carving that could remain on the property.

Bringing the giant log still covered in bark over the Canadian border on a flatbed truck was no easy task for Hanson and husband, Lex. They spent hours trying to convince border officials to let them take the tree to Hanson’s studio in Gibsons, B.C.

Once she was able to get the atlantic cedar home, there it laid on her studio floor where she looked at it in apprehension.

It was such a giant tree, she recalled, and very dense.

“Using my grandfather’s chisels that I inherited, everything just seemed to happen and my grandfather was guiding me in the process,” Hanson said.

She thought of the birds in flight theme because she wanted to carry on the idea of her grandfather’s last piece, “Bird Reaching for the Morning” done from a yellow cedar.

It took her six months to carve through the tree’s quirks. She would wake up in the morning and wasn’t quite sure how she would carve the piece, but the limbs and the shape of the tree directed her carving.

“My grandfather always wanted to retain the natural quality of the trees he sculpted, so knowing the atlantic cedar tree had such significance to Bellevue, I wanted to retain the quality of this tree as well,” she said.

Hanson said her art piece is a “wonderful parallel” to the history that both Freeman and her grandfather has with the community.

“It’s very exciting to be a part of this whole legacy.”

Carrie Wood can be reached at cwood@reporternewspapers.com or 425-453-4290.