Accessibility links

Dragon Sculpture Takes Shape in Suburban Washington Lawn

Just outside Washington, D.C. lies the small suburban city of Takoma Park, Maryland, a community characterized by some as "offbeat." It is a place that takes great pride in its independent mindedness, a quality which has earned the city a popular nickname: "The People's Republic of Takoma Park." VOA's George Dwyer has the story of a Takoma Park man and his eye-catching garden project that is very much in keeping with the unique character of the city.

Homeowner Lew Morris is helping wood sculptor Jim Calder put the finishing touches on an unusual lawn ornament -- a dragon sculpture carved into a dead tree. "The name of our dragon is Herlung, which is Chinese for 'River Dragon'."

Morris says inspiration for the six-meter tall dragon came from his Chinese-American daughter. "My daughter, who is Michelle, she is 15 years old, has a strong predilection to dragons…so I put her to the task of designing it. And so what you are seeing here is her idea of a dragon spiraling down a tree and looking out on the landscape here."

And people are looking back -- lots of them. The tree dragon has drawn inquisitive on-lookers from all over town. Calder and Morris see it as an opportunity to raise awareness about the role of dragons in different cultures.

"Unlike a lot of the dragons we think about in Europe which are fire breathing, nasty critters that eat maidens, the dragons of China are beneficent creatures, they bring water and good (harvest) to the earth," Morris says.

Atop the dragon is a representation of the Earth itself.

"We did that in honor of not only Lew's family but also because it is a Chinese dragon and there is more to the world than the United States," says Jim Calder, who carved the dragon. He was once a computer engineer. "I just decided one day that that was not exactly what I wanted to do. And I went back to carving and everybody kind of chuckled because I was leaving a very prosperous job for a job that… a wood carver?"

But Calder persevered, and he had family history on his side. His uncle was the noted artist Alexander Calder, a friend of Picasso's known around the world for his mobile sculptures, such as those at Washington, D.C.'s National Gallery of Art. "And eventually, like my uncle, at one point I would like to have some of my work in every major city in the world."

If and when that happens, Takoma Park, Maryland will have once again been on the (cutting) edge.