Creating Custom Trees From Manzanita

PAYSON ARTS

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Using a trunk of manzanita wood, Conrad Chapek creates trees leaf by leaf.

"I enjoy making them so much, I don't know what I would do if I couldn't," Chapek said.

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The lush foliage of the trees Conrad Chapek made surrounds him. Each leaf or branch of leaves was carefully placed to show off the gnarls and colors of the manzanita wood.

The leafy branches of one 14-foot-tree in Chapek's house reach toward the ceiling while a bonsai on his workbench waits for his patient hands to attach silk leaves.

The trunks of the trees he made for his home came from the manzanita that was cleared from his land.

"When we first came to Payson and I saw these trees I just fell in love with the unique anatomy."

The wood is smooth in places and gnarled in others.

He was fascinated and that was before he saw the colors under the dirt.

Cut right off the lot, manzanita often looks grey.

Power-washing the wood revealed the burgundy, tan, black and brown streaks winding through the wood.

Dead, the wood is very fragile, so Chapek applies up to seven coats of sealant.

"That makes it secure so I can drill custom holes for leaves -- whether a ficus, a pin oak changing color for the seasons, jade leaf, alder leaf or small flowers."

That Chapek can drill custom holes at all is amazing.

"I love to do landscaping," he said. "In December of '99 I was moving boulders and I fell.

"A 90-pound boulder crushed my right hand. I couldn't use it any more as a dentist, so I was instantly retired."

Two years went by and Chapek was getting frustrated. He could move his right hand, but not grip anything small and only his middle finger and his ring finger could feel anything.

"One day I was tired of laying around."

He picked up the power screwdriver to help his wife fix a door hinge and discovered he could use the tool with his right hand.

Chapek was originally a cosmetic reconstruction dentist in Illinois. When he found out he could practice surgery and reconstruction in Illinois yet still live in Phoenix, he and his wife Janet moved to Phoenix and he flew back and forth.

After the accident he didn't need to be close to Sky Harbor and remembered how beautiful Payson was.

"So I said to my wife, let's take a ride up there," he said.

Walking his lot he said, "I couldn't believe all the beauty I saw, I wasn't sure what to do with it, but I thought I have to do something with this wood, make furniture or something."

Chapek has been creating his custom trees for a few years now, slowly replacing the silk trees in his home, then making them for others.

"I could have the leaves fuller, but I want to wood to show because it is so gorgeous," he said.

The 11-foot commission he is currently working on has approximately 4,000 leaves on several hundred branches.

When his friend Robert Barela saw them, he told him to join the Payson Art League.

"The trees give me a purpose to do things and have fun," Chapek said.

THE RESUME

Name: Conrad Chapek

Motto: Nothing is impossible with God.

Fave place: Here.

Fave hobby: Scuba Diving

Fave movie: War of the Worlds (both the 1953 and 2005 movies)

Awards most proud of: 2005 Payson Art League Show, 3rd place for free-form sculpture.

Professional achievement: The research I did on RetarDEX Oral Rinse, Spray & Toothpaste

Point of contact: (928) 468-0384

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