Hurricane Ike (September 2008) claimed 30,000 trees on public property alone. Although some were destroyed by wind damage, the majority were poisoned by the saltwater. After a long, dry summer, many of the trees were parched and thirsty when the Gulf of Mexico converged with Galveston Bay and consumed the island, and root systems deparate for relief quickly absorbed the plentiful supply of water.
But in a triumphant testament to survival, local artists began to pay tribute to Galveston's resilience and to the crippled trees by carving them into various sculptures all across the island. North of Broadway and 45th Street, in a small park located within a small subdivision called The Oaks, artist Earl Jones transformed a down tree into a proud and victorious rendering of Jack Johnson, known as The Galveston Giant, the first African-American world heavyweight boxing champion (1908-1915) who was born in Galveston.
Completed in 2011, the sculpture had since suffered from time and exposure to the elements, but most damaging were ant and termite infestations.
The Oaks is a development of the Galveston Housing Authority, which commissioned several tree sculptures after the storm. Rick Morrison, local artist and owner of NuCoat Custom Painting and Remodeling, first noticed that the Johnson sculpture was deteriorating during a project he was working on for the GHA in 2017.
"I saw that it was in bad shape, and I thought, I can make this nice, give something back," says Morrison, a fourth generation islander. "I've followed boxing all my life, I remember watching fights as a boy with my dad--he was a Marine, probably a fighter himself. I saw [the sculpture] and I knew I was the one to do it."
In addition to his innate and sentimental connection with the subject matter, Rick also witnessed the sculpture being carved. "I saw when he was doing it, years ago, but I didn't know that I would be the one to fix it one day."
He began by treating the insect infestation, and then lightly hand-sanded the sculpture. Morrison then went about refinishing the sculpture with an added attention to historical detail. By searching for old fighting material and promotional posters of Johnson, he was able to re-create the boxer's look authentically and accurately.
In August 2020, Morrision started refurbishing the tree sculpture again. The statue had become rotten and termites were eating out the inside so the Galveston Housting Authority asked to refurbish the statue again.
"The rain had been getting inside the tree sculpture and it had a big hole in the middle of it," Morrison said.
Morrison used a material called density foam to fill gaps and holes inside the sculpture and once it dried he shaved off the excess. Then he stained, painted and then waterproofed the tree sculpture to help better preserve it.
Today at the hands of this local business owner and srtist, the story of Galveston and its Giat have now come full circle agains