Well, they're tree trunks, you see. She takes a chain saw and splits one end of them into extremely thin boards, and then she bends the boards into shapes. The whole thing might be eight feet high, and when you add on a wooden base strong enough to hold it upright, you've got 40, 50 pounds there.
She says, "My husband got three pieces onto the pickup, but he wanted to fit in some more because I had 13 pieces and he didn't want to make three trips. He wanted to take 'em apart."
Now, an artist who makes jeweled eggs or portraits on thumbnails doesn't have this problem. But when Edna Searles exhibits her sculptures it is a major production. Her work and that of two others may be seen at Strathmore Hall Arts Center in Rockville through Aug. 22.
"I did take one apart," she says in her pleasant Louisiana drawl, "but I didn't number my bolts and each bolt only fits the one hole. You bend it even slightly and you're in trouble."
Searles, her long gray hair damp from moving her trees around, stands in her worn denim overalls in the middle of the room looking rather proprietary. This lovely, airy old house on a hill beside the Grosvenor Metro stop has five exhibition rooms downstairs, three upstairs and lots of hall space. Gleaming hardwood floors. Windows everywhere.
On a bare floor beneath an eerily beautiful winglike structure by Joseph Roberson lie a hammer, three screwdrivers, a box of screws and a tape measure. Roberson stretches homemade paper over bony frames. Rib cages, bat wings. Slightly unsettling.
The third artist, who goes by the name of A.N. Five, is lugging in a bunch of two-foot-square photo constructions. Now he is out in his van dismantling crates. Someone was going to help him carry them in but didn't show, so he has to take the crates apart out there and bring in the pictures one by one. There are 21.
Searles says not every gallery can handle her kind of art. "You have to have high ceilings," she says. "I also have to watch out that I don't make something I can't lift myself. I've had four back injuries as it is."
It wasn't just the three trips in from Clarksburg, Md., that she had to worry about. Once her husband Tom spotted a dead cicada on her cherry tree stump and tried to pick it off. "And I worked so hard to get that cicada just so." Tom is, however, her mentor and her angel, as she says more than once, and also starts the chain saw for her.
Any artist who rearranges nature has to expect a certain resistance. She had a piece called "Four-Four Time," but the guy who engraved the metal title plaque put it down, for reasons of his own, as "Two-Four Time." So that's what it's called now. You pick your battles.
One lovely walnut stump she rescued from some people who had cut down the tree because they were bored with raking up walnuts.
"When it's still full of sap you can get it to curl," Searles says. The walnut stump seems to have sprouted a sheaf of gracefully curving slats. "Some won't curve that much. I go with the way the tree talks to me," she says.
"Trees sing," she says.