If you drive down Worline Road in Bow you’ll pass a house guarded by life-sized driftwood statues. A massive rhino stares down all who enter the driveway with reflective black eyes. The porch is bookended with two owls and a rather terrifying zombie-like creature. What can be best described as the Loch Ness monster towers over the property surveying a collection of dinosaurs and a single friendly-looking mother kangaroo and her Joey.
These are the creations of driftwood artist Joe Treat. You’ve seen his work in the form of giraffes at the Anacortes Depot Arts Center, and the Chuckanut Bay Gallery and Sculpture Garden houses his alligator and until recently, Treat’s German Shepard (a private buyer purchased the canine).
It all began a few years ago with a trip to Thailand. He visited a town of woodworkers that made sculptures out of a locally found root that resembles driftwood. Treat, having a need to create, found an outlet. He had originally tried carpentry, but wasn’t a fan of the exacting measurements and finishes. “I wasn’t a perfectionist” he said while turning over a twisted piece of driftwood.
During a tour of his boneyard, the area outside his work shed piled high with driftwood that may one day be part of his creations, Treat explained his process. He never will reveal the beaches he visits to scavenge for material, but he did say sometimes he’ll use Google Maps to quickly comb the coastline for larger pieces. Treat says searching for driftwood makes him “Feel like an archeologist. Sometimes I’m looking for body parts and sometimes I’m looking for something to be inspired with.” In the boneyard there are large twisting spindles designated for a life-sized elephant Treat wants to build, a shelf of flat twisted pieces that make excellent wings, and standing alone on the side of the shed is an immense curved piece that Treat admits he’s not quite sure what he’ll use for yet.
The artist knows his craft. He seeks out curvier pieces of wood versus angular straight driftwood because animals are made of curves. Weight distribution is important especially for taller sculptures, and Treat knows where on the beach to look for driftwood based on weight. He switches out the saw blade often since salt water and sand are harsh on metal.
Each sculpture begins with a threaded rod for its core. Then appendages and special characteristics are screwed on. As a finishing touch Treat takes a considerable amount of time to figure out the eyes. He’s used drawer pulls, golf balls, light bulbs, dog toys, and even the rubber bottoms from walking canes. The sculptor said “If the eyes don’t look right it’s not believable.”
Treat admitted that it can be a struggle for him to know when a sculpture is really complete and he can stop. In a way they are never really finished. The pieces are meant to be displayed outside where sun, rain, and wind can further weather the wood. The sun-bleaching ages the “skin” making it look more realistic.
Treat’s next artistic venture will be sculpting with roots. He plans to spend more time in Thailand where there’s no driftwood, so the roots he watched local woodworkers sculpt will become his new medium.
After years of driftwood sculpting the mostly retired insurance agent finally considers himself an artist. He added with a wide grin, “I’m having the time of my life.” Treat creates for the sake of artistic expression. He enjoys puzzling together driftwood to build something resembling a monkey or a horse. The fact that people are willing to purchase his art is icing on the cake. He explained, “I’m not really doing it to sell. My greatest joy is watching people drive by, and screech on their brakes and back up. It’s almost impossible to drive by without smiling.”