The Village of Spring Lake commissioned Aziza Abbasi to create a painting of the 150-plus-year-old tree with local children in the scene.
The painting will be hung in a yet-to-be-determined prominent community location, and prints and note cards will be available for purchase, according to Village Manager Chris Burns.
On Tuesday morning, Abbasi met with four Spring Lake students who were chosen as models — Scott Theune, 13; Tessa Petrus, 12; Nia Theune, 11; and Lainey Gibson Havenga, 7. Scott posed in a baseball uniform holding a bat; Nia sat with her back against the tree reading a book; Tessa rode her bike near the tree; and Lainey waited to cross the road with her scooter, backpack and favorite stuffed animal, Rocket.
Abbasi set up several poses with the children during the morning session. She'll create the painting from photographs taken Tuesday morning, and also from photos taken of the tree before its health began to decline after the construction of the school drop-off lane three years ago.
Abbasi estimates it will take about three weeks to complete the oil painting, for which the village will pay $800.
Abbasi moved here from Pakistan in 2001. She longed to take art classes in her native country as a child, but it was difficult for women to go into liberal studies, she said.
After moving to America, Abbasi took art classes at Muskegon Community College and Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids. She won second place in a recent Grand Haven ArtWalk competition with a London-themed painting.
“They told me the tree was coming down,” said Abbasi, whose son, Izzy, graduated from Spring Lake High School. “I think it's really an honor for me to be doing this project more than it is work.”
Her “models” seemed to feel the same, but all agreed they would miss the tree.
Abbasi spent time with the tree in recent weeks, to feel the texture of its bark and take close-up photos of the leaves.
“It's sad, really, that it has to come down,” she said.
Scott said he enjoyed the shade that the tree provided when he attended Spring Lake Intermediate School. The shade extended to the classrooms on the east side of the building.
“It's going to be bad because it won't be protecting anymore,” said Scott, now a seventh-grader at Spring Lake Middle School.
Lainey, a second-grader at Holmes Elementary School, said things will look a lot different without the tree.
“Nothing is going to be able to replace it,” she said. “It would look nicer if something was still right here.”
Village Councilwoman Susan Petrus said it's hard to say goodbye to a tree that old, but she's glad village officials are creating a lasting tribute for it.
Council also agreed to store the wood after the tree is cut down so that pieces may be available to create benches or plaques at a later date.
“I think this is a great way to memorialize the tree,” Petrus said. “We can have a beautiful painting and make things available to those who care about it, like prints or cards.
“Aziza is part of this community,” the councilwoman continued. “You can see how much she cares about this project. She has an attachment here. It's sad to see the tree come down, but it's time. The tree's life is ending, but I think we're doing a good job memorializing it.”
“I'm kind of excited to have a local artist putting her touch on this,” she said. “She's a very talented artist.”
Three arborist reports have confirmed the tree is in declining health and could pose a danger to humans.