The Tree Spirits of Saint Simmons Island are one of the most fascinating roadside attractions in North America. Carved into dozens of live oaks and hardwoods, the mysterious wise faces that seem to reveal the trees’ inner spirits are the work of local sculptor Keith Jennings.
Jennings started his Tree Spirits project in 1982, as a hobby. Looking for a way to kill time around the house, the artist armed himself with a few hand tools and began exercising his artistic talents on a tree in his backyard. “I had too much time and too little money,” Keith remembers about the beginnings as a tree carver, but his works impressed the community to such a degree that he was later commissioned to release the inner spirits of 20 other trees around Saint Simmons Island, off the Georgia coast. Although it has long been said that the faces he sculpts into the trees are meant to represent the sailors who drowned on ships made from trees from the island, Keith Jennings dismisses the rumor. “The trees do it all,” he says. “I don’t have that much to do with it. The wood speaks to you, ya know?” Each of his intriguing artworks are created entirely according to the tree they’re carved into. “I like the way they age as they. The bark starts rolling over the edges and gives each one a spooky, eerie appearance,” the artist says.