In Holly Springs, art stands where tornado took grandfather tree

akenney@newsobserver.comFebruary 26, 2013 

— Two years on, the last scars of the tornado are fading.

A brand new station stands where the winds ripped the old firehouse’s roof. The boards are off windows across town. And in place of a great fallen oak is a piece of art.

Holly Springs on Wednesday got its first glimpse of “Embrace,” a 2,000-pound steel sculpture that stands in place of one of the county’s largest trees.

Rex Healthcare had intended the century-old oak to be the centerpiece of its new Holly Springs medical center. But the April 2011 tornado streaked across the region just as the project neared completion, damaging the medical building and splintering the 85-foot-tall tree.

The tree’s corpse yielded 36 tons of firewood for charity, but Rex was left with a hole in its plans, and locals found themselves missing the landmark that once stood on the property of Colonel Adams, a 1920s owner of the current hospital site.

“It was the biggest thing around here in the way of a tree,” said Ken Jarvis, who lived across the road from the willow oak since 1979.

The southwestern part of town was hardest hit by the tornado. The grandfather oak was the largest of hundreds of trees to fall, damaging homes and infrastructure.

Before the winds, “you couldn’t see my neighbor. This place was loaded with trees,” said Jarvis, who estimates he lost 40 pecans and oaks on his property, which suffered about $300,000 of damage.

It was Jarvis’ idea, in part, to replace wood with steel. Already familiar with Rex planners from land negotiations, he pitched the concept of a sculpture.

To replace the arboreal centerpiece, the health-care system hired Jim Gallucci, a Greensboro sculptor.

His work on the Holly Springs site imitates the tree itself, with metal willow oak leaves and curling steel ribbons that imitate a tree’s rings.

“The rings form an embrace, but they’re also like the rings of the tree,” said Gallucci, who began work on the sculpture in October 2011.

At night, the steel glows in different colors – as hard to miss, almost, as the venerable oak.

Kenney: 919-460-2608 or

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