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A parliament of owls

By Staff | May 23, 2014

Carolyn Brown seated beside the finished sculpture.

To the casual passerby, there’s nothing really unusual about Don and Carolyn Brown’s home on North Fourth Street. A lot of beautiful flowers bedecking a classic home with deck overlooking the west fork of the Des Moines tells of many hours devoted to creating their own piece of heaven, right here in Estherville.

Look around their yard awhile, though, and it gets, well . . . downright spooky.

Five owl sculptures now adorn the Brown’s lawn – in addition to a bench featuring two owls that Bess and Tracy Coy, chainsaw sculptors extraordinaire from Hastings, Minn., carved for them a year ago. But that’s not all. There are three other owl sculptures in the front and south lawn and on a deck overlooking the west fork of the Des Moines. There’s also a seven-foot sculpture done by Storm Lake chainsaw artist Jeff Klatt. And as of last weekend, there are two more owls, one on the top of a dead maple tree with another just below in bas-relief.

Except for the Klatt piece, all the other owl sculptures were done by the Coys. The Browns met the Coys through Bess’s mom and Don’s mom who are neighbors in Wells, Minn, Don’s hometown.

Bess, who teaches high-school art, was the first to take up what to some might seem the manly art of chainsaw sculpting. It was when she was growing up in Hayward, Wis. that she saw a lot of wood carvings. She and Tracy have carved at some all-night senior parties and they did a peace token for her school. Tracy said Bess carved a story chair with an eagle soaring over a bear – something quite fitting to Bess’s distant Native American heritage.

The Coys work together as a team, with Bess doing design while Tracy, a building contractor by trade, finds carving animals his forte.

“We complement each other’s strengths,” Bess observed.

They’ve carved together in Pennsylvania and Texas with Bess carving in Washington, D.C. They also took one piece to Florida. Most of their work is found throughout Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota.

Tracy said they do about six trees in people’s yards a year, mainly during the summer when Bess can take off from school. If treated yearly, he said the trees will last as long as whoever owns one takes care of it.

As guests gathered to watch, the Coys started carving a little before noon Saturday when Carolyn provided lunch in Don’s Diner, a 50s-style diner authentic right down to the pop machine. Throughout the day, Bess visualized the finished carving, holding her hands in front of the wood, while Tracy closely examined the wood to determine if there were any dark spots where the wood had started to decay.

They worked through Saturday and resumed again Sunday when they finished the sculpture.

As Don explained, a gathering of owls is known as a parliament (who would have guessed that?). We’ve all heard of a covey of quail, a brace of pheasants, a flock of geese (or gaggle when they’re grounded) and a convocation of eagles (okay, that one might be a little obscure).

Guest Alan Wilson, originally from London, knew though.

A parliament, of course, he observed.