Though California, the Bay Area and Los Gatos are all officially out of our devastating 4-year drought, the reprieve came too late to save one of the majestic Sequoia redwoods that has loomed above the Los Gatos High School’s expansive front lawn for over half a century. But its unfortunate demise enabled the creation of an amazing carving of the school’s wildcat mascot.
It seemed literally overnight, the giant tree turned brown though it had obviously been distressed for some time. An arborist confirmed the tree couldn’t be saved and because the roots of the deceased redwood were interconnected with those of neighboring Sequoias, the stump couldn’t be extracted without causing potential damage.
Concerned about safety, the majority of the tree was removed in 2016, with about 12 feet of its trunk marking the spot where the Sequoia once stood. It ‘sat’ for months as the school and the district mulled over what to do with what remained of this once towering goliath.
That all changed on a hot June day a few weeks into summer break when the remaining trunk was transformed into the high school’s wildcat mascot by a man wielding a chainsaw. Crowds of onlookers gathered as Kreativ Holzart’s Steffen Merla, a self-taught artist from Germany, carved, sawed, chipped and chiseled to uncover the cat that lurked beneath the redwood.
Thanks to a partnership with Half Moon Bay’s Firewood Farms, Steffen travels to the Bay Area a few times a year to create amazing carvings. Steffen and Firewood Farms were commissioned to create the wildcat after a Los Gatos High School alumnus saw photos of his work. She contacted the district office and told them about Steffen and they immediately secured a position on his schedule during his impending June visit.
A committee set to work to prepare for the artist’s arrival, ultimately deciding that the mascot was the most fitting icon. Upon Steffen’s arrival, he was driven to the entrance of Poet’s Canyon to see firsthand the cat statues that flank the gate of the private estate. Photos were taken as reference and soon after, Steffen set to work.
Using all sizes of chainsaws and other carving tools, the artist began to strip away the bark and wood. Mounds of sawdust were left in his wake, which had to be continuously removed. Onlookers gathered in droves while he worked, undeterred the heat wave. Tourists, residents, summer school students, retired LGHS teachers, all came to witness the metamorphosis of the Sequoia. Photos were shared all over social media documenting the various stages of the cat’s reveal.
Today, the remarkable addition of the wildcat carving to Los Gatos High School landscape adds to its distinction (the façade of the high school has been used on a number of television shows) and is a reminder not only of the spirit of the school and the community but also is a reflection of the circle of life.
20 High School Court, Los Gatos