Clearwater woodcarver creates living art from dying trees

Warren Hunt has turned his love of woodworking into an attention-getting side business.
CLEARWATER — Over the past few weeks, motorists driving along Enterprise Road in Safety Harbor had to be extra mindful of tailgating drivers causing potential fender benders.
The commotion was the result of a woodcarving in front of the Animal Hospital of Northwood, about a mile east of McMullen-Booth Road.
The man responsible for the eye-catching woodwork is Warren Hunt of Clearwater, who was schooled as an artist and developed an affinity for crafting sculptures from wood rather than metal or clay.
“I used to cut down my neighbors’ trees when I was 14, 15 years old,” the St. Petersburg native explained. “At some point I started carving stuff, making tiki heads and things, and then I started getting into more intricate carvings.”
At one point in his life, Hunt sold trees, but now he and his sons are custom collectors and wholesalers of sharks, jellyfish and other marine life. He’s turned his woodworking skills into a nice little side business over the years.
In addition to making tiki heads and bar fixtures for the Ballyhoo Grill restaurant chain in the 1990s, the 45-year-old carved a large eagle a few years ago that sits in front of O’Dell Trailers on Ulmerton Road in Largo.
Today, Hunt is starting to receive more requests to do commissioned work.
“More and more people are asking me to do carvings for them,” he said, standing in front of the 14-foot-tall sculpture at the vet’s office. “I’ve gotten a couple of offers just from doing this.”
Indeed, part of the sudden increase in demand for Hunt’s talents can be attributed to the piece on Enterprise Road. It’s in a slower-speed, high-traffic area, and the towering depiction of an owl, cat and dog, flanked by two flowering tree limbs, has been drawing attention for weeks.
Veterinarian Don J. Woodman said he came up with the idea for the piece after learning the laurels were causing foundation problems for his building. Told the trees were dying, he sought a solution that would please everybody.
“I knew I wanted to incorporate a sculpture of some sort, and my, wife Susan, and I had recently taken a vacation to Canada,” Woodman said via e-mail. “In Canada we saw some totem poles, and that provided the first spark for turning one of the trees into a sculpture.”
Hunt’s uncle, George, owns a nursery next to Woodman’s office, and from that association, the vet’s idea started to become a reality.
“Warren told us that he could create a carving while still having the tree be alive so we could end up with a living sculpture,” Woodman said. “So the pieces fell into place quite nicely.”
“I’ve never tried something like this before, leaving part of the carving alive,” Hunt said. “So this is kind of an experiment, but I think it’s gonna work out nicely.”
With the vet’s carving nearly complete, Hunt will have to move on to his next project soon.
He said he might want to teach carving and saw safety at some point. While he’s not sure what the future holds, he knows it somehow will involve wood.
“I’ve been around trees all my life,” he said. “I’m like a termite — I always have sawdust in my teeth.”
For more information about Hunt’s woodcarving, contact him at Poseidon & Sons Aquatics at (727) 410-3388.
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