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by Judith Hruz
He has traveled the world.
He has lived among, learned from and loved the community of people he has met along the way.
These days, his adventure is at the corner of Olney-Laytonsville Road and Headwaters Drive, next to the post office in Olney. And there is no place he would rather be.
Colin Vale is holding court – as often as possible – on an open field owned by a local homeowners association, where he greets passers-by who stop to view the carvings he created with a chainsaw out of a 55-year-old cherry tree that had once lived in his yard on Darnell Drive.
The tree had died and was cut down, but the arborists left behind the sturdy trunk of the tree.
Vale was used to carving. He began carving with a chisel, which allowed him to create very small – especially in comparison to what he creates today – wooden pieces of art.
Thanks, in part, to the Rapa Nui people, who helped him hone his carving skills while on Easter Island, a remote island in Polynesia, he just decided to trade the chisel for the chainsaw.
What appears at his outdoor “gallery” is proof that his skill transferred from one to the other.
Vale gets a strong vision of what he wants to create, he said, and then he simply removes the wood to get there.
The alum of Olney Elementary School, Rosa Parks Middle School and Sherwood High School went on to earn a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Maryland.
While his skills as a mechanical engineer might guide him as he wields a chisel or a chainsaw, it is more about what he feels inside.
“It’s about strongly seeing the final product, and then simply removing the wood,” he said.
This is not his first gallery under the sun; he had “exhibited” a few of his smaller pieces on an obscure walking path closer to his home.
This is the big time, and although it took him a little while to finally bring his work to the site – he set up on Feb. 20 – he is thrilled he did.
The community has wandered by and stopped to talk.
And that’s just what he wants.
What he wants to create is not just about giving new life to an old tree.
Vale wants to give new life to a conversation – any conversation – that helps make the community stronger. That conversation must be respectful and earnest, he said.
One of his pieces is tall and beautifully rough to the touch, bearing the words “E Pluribus Unum” – our country’s motto meaning “Out of many, one.” It starts as a solid base, breaks into tendrils that wind around each other, and come back together to hold a red heart. The heart is raised high, as if to offer it up as the most important part of the piece.
The piece seems to sum up Vale and what he hopes to accomplish.
“It’s about being different, but being a community,” he said
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