Georgia Magazine - March 2021 - 12

Curious GEORGIA

By Pamela A. Keene

SCOTT MOORE / COURTESY KEITH JENNINGS

'Spirits' adorn live oaks
on St. Simons Island

I

COURTESY GOLDEN ISLES CONVENTION AND VISITORS BUREAU

f you look closely, you can make out
ancient faces carved into some of
the live oak trees around St. Simons
Island. They appear to be waiting to tell
their stories of this barrier island, but in
truth, they were carved nearly 40 years
ago by former island resident Keith
Jennings.
" In the 1980s, Keith fashioned more
than 20 images, capturing the essence
of each tree's personality by carving
faces into crooks of branches, the healed
wounds of trunks and other natural
irregularities of our centuries-old live
oaks, " says Scott McQuade, president of
the Golden Isles Convention and Visitors
Bureau. " It was a way of leaving his mark
on St. Simons through the faces he said
embodied the spirits inhabiting the trees. "
The " tree spirits, " which appear on
both public and private property, have
fascinated visitors ever since they were
created. Some of the early carvings have
been absorbed into the live oaks, but
seven remain visible on public property.
The images include an ancient sailor, a
standing mermaid, a sea turtle and a man
with heavy eyebrows and a mustache.
Jennings used chisels and wooden mallets to bring the
spirits to life, delicately shaping
eyebrows, mouths, beards and
cheekbones. At the time, he said
that he was tapping into the spirits that occupied the trees-the
inner personifications that spoke
to him as he carved.
" The live oak is our signature tree on St. Simons Island, "
McQuade says. " Some of them
are easily several hundred years
old, with trunk diameters of 8 to

KEITH JENNINGS

Keith Jennings said that his
carvings, which were made with
chisels and wooden mallets, were
the manifestations of the spirits
within the majestic live oak trees.

12

Georgia Magazine

March 2021

Above: Keith Jennings carved some of the
faces into St. Simons Island's live oak trees
nearly 40 years ago. This one is among
the earliest carvings. Left: A mermaid
invites visitors to the Golden Isles
Welcome Center to explore the tree
spirits. A map shows where the seven
carvings on public property can be found.

10 feet. One of the first things people
tell us they notice when they come to
this part of the state are the massive
live oaks, especially those that reach
across the roads and create amazing
canopies draped with Spanish moss. "
In 2016, Jennings and his teenage
son, Devon, returned to St. Simons
from their home near Asheville, N.C.,
and carved a full-length mermaid that
stands nearly 8 feet tall. As one of the
most visible tree spirits, she adorns a
slender live oak in the parking lot outside the Golden Isles
Welcome Center in Pier Village. They also came back in 2018
to craft another tree spirit as a private commission.
Several years ago, the staff at the Golden Isles Convention
and Visitors Bureau developed a brochure about the seven tree
spirits on public land, complete with a map and background
about the engaging forms.
" Visitors see the mermaid and come into the Welcome
Center to ask about her, " McQuade says. " She literally opens
the door for conversations about the tree spirits, and people
immediately want to tour them all. Frankly, the tree spirits are
the most-asked-about and most enduring [attractions] we have
here. Families of all generations are eager to seek out these carvings and discover another aspect of our coastal community. "
Pamela A. Keene is a freelance writer who lives in Flowery
Branch.
To see the brochure and map of the tree spirits' locations, go to
bit.ly/treespirits.


http://www.bit.ly/treespirits

Georgia Magazine - March 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Georgia Magazine - March 2021

Contents
Georgia Magazine - March 2021 - Intro
Georgia Magazine - March 2021 - Cover1
Georgia Magazine - March 2021 - Cover2
Georgia Magazine - March 2021 - Contents
Georgia Magazine - March 2021 - 4
Georgia Magazine - March 2021 - 5
Georgia Magazine - March 2021 - 6
Georgia Magazine - March 2021 - 7
Georgia Magazine - March 2021 - 8
Georgia Magazine - March 2021 - 9
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Georgia Magazine - March 2021 - 11
Georgia Magazine - March 2021 - 12
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Georgia Magazine - March 2021 - Cover3
Georgia Magazine - March 2021 - Cover4
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