The Climbing Tree provided a spark of fun for generations of kids in Verona. How fitting then that it may be reborn as a dragon.
Joe Cielecki was one of the many Veronans who came to Verona Park on the snowy morning of February 3, the day we all discovered that the Climbing Tree had been cut down. But the sled he towed into the park wasn’t for sledding. Cielecki, a long-time auto body repairman, had built it years ago to haul home the raw materials for his growing hobby, wood carving. Where others saw fallen limbs as just fodder for a chipper, Cielecki saw walking sticks with pistol grips and Rococo knobs. He saw dragons ready to fly away on their wings and dolphins leaping out of waves.
“I bring life to things out of a dead piece of wood,” Cielecki says. “I don’t put paint on them, I don’t put stain. If the wood is gorgeous, it’s gorgeous by itself.”
Cielecki doesn’t cut trees down. But when trees in Verona are felled, or lose limbs in a storm, he is often the first to be there to salvage their wood. And that includes the Climbing Tree, a tree that he viewed from his front porch for his entire life. As the Verona Park Conservancy had the tree pruned to try to save it, Cielecki gathered pieces of limbs and hauled them back to his makeshift studio near the park. The skull knob on a walking stick displayed on his dining room table was fashioned from an earlier bit of the Climbing Tree.
Though Cielecki is entirely self-taught as a wood carver, he has achieved recognition in that craft’s community. Two years ago, his carving of a winged serpent was heralded at a wood-carving competition in Florida, earning Cielecki the designation of “master carver”.
Cielecki doesn’t yet know what will become of the pieces of the Climbing Tree that he has collected. Some of his designs come from his own imagination, others come from the collectors who commission a piece from him. “I can carve your face or your baby’s,” Cielecki offers. He is reticent to talk prices, but says his walking sticks have sold for between $50 and $200.
Don’t search for a Web site for Joe Cielecki, Master Carver; that’s not his technology. We’ve put pictures of some of his creations on MyVeronaNJ’s Facebook page. If you want to commission at carving, call him at (973) -239-0144.