One of the most devastating atrocities to hit Mississippi has turned out to be a creative outlet for wood sculptors in the South. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 left thousands of trees uprooted and stripped of their foliage from destructive winds and heavy flooding. Though Biloxi tree service companies were inundated with tree removal and other disaster relief efforts, hundreds of trees were still rooted, but severely marred. MDOT was instructed to “top” the trees, but not remove them. Instead of removing the bare oaks thrusting up along Highway 90, Mayor A.J. Holloway commissioned chainsaw artist, Dayton Scoggins, to recycle four trees in the center median into works of art.
Dayton Scoggins of Sandersville, MS, began the project in January of 2007 and spent four days transforming five surviving stumps into egrets, marlins, seagulls and other marine creatures. Located near the Biloxi Lighthouse on Highway 90, these beautiful sculptures have captured the eye of tourists as they make their way down to Beach Boulevard. Because they came to symbolize the vitality of the community, Mayor Holloway sought consent from City Council to have more sculptures created. The Council obliged with overwhelming enthusiasm.
Not only were they thrilled about the sculptures, but proposed a sculpture garden to extend beyond Beach Boulevard. The project thrived on into 2008, with the addition of wood carvers such as Marlin Miller and other local artists. So inspired by the work Scoggins created from the desolate trees, Miller wanted to contribute to Biloxi’s rebuild. A native of Fort Walton Beach, Florida, Miller continued the project down the coastal highway with the addition of 20 works of art. His sculptures feature bottlenose dolphins, owls, marlins, and sharks.
However, the most stunning part of the whole project is Miller’s refusal to accept any compensation for his time and efforts. While Scoggins was commissioned to complete the first installment of the project for $7,000, Miller openly donated his time as a way to give back to the city that helped his community recover from Hurricane Ivan in 2006.
By February 2009, Miller had created over three dozen works of art throughout Biloxi,
Mississippi, from west beach to the lighthouse. His final creation, a whale tail and osprey piece, was completed February 26, 2009 just south of the Biloxi City Cemetery. To this day the Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau reports the sculptures are one of the most popular attractions on the Mississippi coast.