Dead oak tree gets new life at Santa Fe winery
Raymond Haak’s winery in Santa Fe once featured an oak tree standing more than 7 feet tall with just two branches reaching out in opposite directions.
That tree is now, for all scientific purposes, dead. It’s unrecognizable, its branches gone.
But for artistic purposes, the tree is alive and well. After it died, Haak, whose family owns Haak Vineyards & Winery, asked a sculptor to carve it into a work of art.
The oak showcases intricate etchings across its trunk, depicting squirrels and other small animals running among grapes leaves and vines. A stork sits on top of the tree — a symbol of fertility.
“We just want to preserve everything,” Haak said. “Why do away with something beautiful?”
Haak has several trees planted around the property, but this stands out from the rest.
The oak died several months ago for a reason Haak couldn’t pinpoint, he said. It’s possible that insects ate at it, but he isn’t certain, he said.
Haak didn’t want to just get rid of the tree. He remembered a carved trunk at a wine festival, and he recalled the dozens of trees in Galveston that were repurposed in a similar way after Hurricane Ike struck in 2008. The storm’s salty surge killed the trees.
The Galveston trees, which depict animals, mermaids and people, among other things, have become symbols of strength, Haak said.
Haak called Della Meredith, a professional artist and wood carver. She took Haak’s requests for vines and a stork and used saws to carve into the tree, she said. Once it was done, Meredith sealed it to preserve the wood forever.
“I get really into it,” Meredith said. “Every piece, I’m inspired by nature and God. It’s just a creative process.”
The stork on the top of the tree just happened to fit on the top of the trunk perfectly, Meredith said. But in wood carving, artists have to be careful; one mistake could alter everything, she said.
“With clay, you’re molding; When you’re carving, you’re taking away,” Meredith said. “You really have to think about it. If you take something off, it’s gone. You can’t put it back on. It’s a lot of thought.”
The stork carries a bundled-up baby, symbolizing fertility, Haak said.
“We do a lot of weddings here,” Haak said. “Storks, they have a reputation of bringing babies.”
Haak continually makes improvements to his winery, and the tree was just the smallest and latest, he said.
“What we’re trying to do here is create a place of escape where people get away from the norm,” Haak said. “You don’t expect to see a winery in Galveston County. You want to create a wow factor.”