In Richmond tree, eagle flock grew and grew

  • Associated Press
  • October 14, 2013 - 12:05 AM

RICHMOND, Minn. — In a tree near Sheldon Lang's home in Richmond sits a 7½-foot eagle carved from white oak. The creature is surrounded by carvings of a female eagle and three eaglets.

Lang's family gave him the piece by chain saw sculptor Mark Kurtz a few years ago as a retirement gift. But since then, it has grown to include another full-grown eagle and three eaglets in a nest.

Kurtz wasn't planning to part with the initial piece of the sculpture, but his mind changed after he saw Lang's passion for the majestic bird, the St. Cloud Times reported (

"When I see (eagles) in flight, my son's got a place up north, that's where I watch them all the time ... they would come down and try to grab fish, we would watch them. That was my main source of falling in love with them," Lang said.

"As I got older, I appreciated what that bird stands for ... it stands for freedom. ... They should never, ever have to be put on an endangered species list."

Lang retired from general contractor work two years ago, and that might give him ample time for eagle-watching if not for community projects such as his recent work on Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Richmond.

"I'll call it my final legacy, that church, because I won't do another project that large. ... It was my hometown, and I belong to that church. There was a lot of sentiment," Lang said.

Initially, Kurtz brought the eagle to show to Lang — he had no intention of selling it. Lang first witnessed it on Kurtz's trailer.

"He said 'It's not for sale. I'll probably never be able to make another eagle like that,' " Lang said. But they went back to Lang's property to find a tree that would suit the eagle.

"I wanted to have it in a tree," Lang said. "We hee-hawed back and forth, back and forth, and finally he gave in, he said, 'Well, I know how much you like eagles.' "

Kurtz said Lang's place was a good home for it.

"It was hard parting with this one, it really was," Kurtz said.

They added the fish, because Lang is an avid fisherman.

"The bass was Sheldon's idea. I just totally fell in love with that idea," Kurtz said.

And then the statue grew, with a mother eagle, a nest and three eaglets, representing Lang's family.

"That's my family right there," he said. They even designated an eaglet for each child. Both point out, to truly appreciate the set-up, you have to look at the sculpture from all angles.

"I see more unique trees than probably anybody. When I saw this tree I said, 'Sheldon, this is it,' " Kurtz said. "The tree was a perfect prop for (the eagle sculpture). It doesn't get lost in it. It balances nicely. The eagle is larger than you think it is."

The main eagle is 7½ feet from talons to the tips of the wings. Its wings are open 5½feet apart. Kurtz used a natural Y in the tree he carved to form the basic shape for the wings.

"I didn't really want to sell it ... I don't get perfect pieces. ... Where can you find two branches that are the same size?" Kurtz said.

He said the wider the wings are — the wider the Y — the better.

"The wider the better, the more lifelike the bird becomes," he said.

This is one of the best eagles he's sculpted in 27 years, he said.

Though both study eagles, they took a few liberties with the eaglet carvings for aesthetic purposes. They're not quite true to life, because their heads are white. Eaglets actually have brown heads until they mature. But they discovered the eaglets got lost in the tree without the paint job.

They all also have taxidermy eyes, so they don't fade, crack or discolor.

Kurtz lives in Albany but has his sculpture gallery in Avon.

"It's a hard way to make a living. It takes a lot of patience," he said.

Kurtz has several injuries from his chain saw sculpting business.

"This is a dangerous business ... don't just pick up a saw and start doing this," he said.

"There's a moment in time I want to create," Kurtz said. "Sheldon inspired in me that type of feeling."

"This man's heart is all eagle," Kurtz said. "He understands them, he knows how majestic they are, and the freedom they stand for."

Said Lang: "Someday when I'm in the blue sky up there, hopefully I'll have some of them flying around under me."

This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the St. Cloud Times

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