Who can forget last December's windstorms—the worst in Los Angeles in living memory—an all-night blast from the sky that sent once-stately trees crashing onto major boulevards, houses and cars?
Eagle Rock sculptor D. Paul Verbré recalls one gigantic tree that fell right next to his brick-walled studio, Verbré Fine Art, where the artist has worked for the past 18 years. “I didn’t have the time or the wherewithal to do anything artistic with it,” he recalls. “But I picked up a few pieces for firewood.”
Little did Verbré know at the time that he would soon be carving the branch of a sprawling tree that had been damaged in the windstorms not too far from his studio on 4540 Eagle Rock Blvd., next to .
The tree, located on the campus of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, was an Engelmann Oak said to be more than 400 years old. The species, also known as Pasadena Oak, is native to Southern California and northwestern Baja California in Mexico.
"I don't know if there are many Engelmann Oaks that old," says Verbré, adding that he could never have imagined that a lumpy branch from an oak would give him an opportunity to be part of Caltech history.
On Tuesday, after about three months of frequently intense effort, Verbré finished the "Torch of Knowledge and Discovery"—the title that he says Caltech has bestowed on his 50-pound sculpture from the branch of the Engelmann Oak on campus. The sculpture depicts a flame that is 23 inches tall and 15 inches wide.
"They loved it," says the artist, referring to the employees at Caltech who saw the sculpture, replete with its roughly 60-pound granite base, Tuesday. "They didn't know where they're going to place it, but everyone wanted to put it in their office."
According to Verbré, Caltech hired him shortly after the windstorms to work on the branch. “They wanted to do something creative with it,” he says. Verbré suggested the branch be sculpted into something that depicts the flame on the torch that is part of Caltech’s logo (see photos).
“It was quite a project,” says Verbré, adding: “It’s one of my finest pieces.”