Artist Simon O’Rourke brings new meaning to a “palm tree” with his massive sculpture of a hand emerging from a tree stump. Titled Giant Hand of Vyrnwy, the piece measures 50 feet tall and transforms in front of your eyes. The base of the sculpture is a standard tree; but as you gaze upward, it begins to shed its bark and eventually becomes the smooth skin of the arm and ends with the gentle creases found in the palm and fingers. This transition, between rough and smooth, has a folkloric quality—as if a giant is trying to make its way onto Earth.
Giant Hand of Vyrnwy is carved into the formerly tallest tree in Wales. In fact, that’s why O’Rourke got to create the sculpture in the first place. The tree had been damaged by a storm and was going to be cut down, and the Natural Resource Wales was planning on commissioning an artist to carve it.
“I was really excited at the prospect of carving this giant and creating a memorial for such a well-known landmark,” O’Rourke explains. “I began researching the area and found the area of woodland that contained the tree was known as the Giants of Vyrnwy. This got me thinking and I decided on a giant hand, symbolizing the giants, and the tree’s last attempt to reach for the sky!”
To craft such an impressive piece required the right tools and a strong work ethic. “A scaffold was needed to make it safe to work on, and the terrain was such a difficult one that it took two days to erect the scaffold,” the artist recalls. “Six days of intense work followed using chainsaws and grinders. I needed to add two pieces for the thumb and little finger, as the tree wasn’t wide enough to form the whole hand.” Once complete, O’Rourke coated the sculpture in tung oil, which is a natural plant-based oil that’s safe for the environment.
Aside from being an incredible work of art, the process was a valuable reminder for O’Rourke. “I loved working on the hand sculpture, it reminded me just how small we are compared to some of the living organisms on this planet,” he says. “All in all, a humbling experience!”
Artist Simon O’Rourke used a chainsaw to carve a giant hand emerging from a tree stump.