Imagine 125 mph winds and a storm surge 22 feet tall on an unprotected white sand beach. In Biloxi, Mississippi on August 29, 2005 this was the cataclysmic reality when Hurricane Katrina ripped through the city.
The devastation was horrific, and even though it’s been nearly a decade, Biloxi is still healing. On our recent visit we saw first hand a small but encouraging sign that the city is on the mend: dead trees carved into playful sea creatures.
We visited Biloxi about a year after Katrina, and were appalled by the destruction. What had been mile after mile of beachfront antebellum mansions, creole cottages, and stately oak trees was now vacant lots with waist-high weeds. Most buildings had been leveled to their cement slabs, and the remaining trees were ravaged and struggling for survival.
But today, new construction lines the beachfront with homes and businesses replacing the historic houses. And many of the dead trees that line the beachfront have been transformed from stark reminders into whimsical art.
Biloxi’s Katrina Sculpture project began in 2007, when the city’s government approached Mississippi chainsaw artist Dayton Scoggins to sculpt marine animals on the standing dead trees in the median of Beach Boulevard. Scoggins carved the initial five, and later, Florida artist Marlin Miller stepped in to volunteer his skills to carve the remaining works.
There are over 20 of the carvings in the median, and a visitors’ survey by the Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau reported that the sculptures are one of the top attractions on the Mississippi Coast.
These fun carvings are another example of lemons to lemonade, and a reminder that every end is a new beginning.
Biloxi won’t soon forget Hurricane Katrina, but this art project shows that with a bit of imagination, a part of her legacy can be good.