Art / Mississippi / Slice of Americana / Travel

Lemons to Lemonade: Biloxi’s Tree Art

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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. 

Seahorse FI

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. 

Happy Trails,

murphys-tree-spitit2If you’d like to see some more cool tree art, then check these out:

Watchers in the Hammock
Tree Spirits: A Great Excuse to Hit the Pub
Tree Spirits of St. Simons: The Other Woman



Herons 2


51 thoughts on “Lemons to Lemonade: Biloxi’s Tree Art

    • Thanks Yvette. The seahorse is one of my favorites as well. These sculptures are very popular. We were there in the early morning in the middle of the week, and there were a couple of other folks out photographing them (and shooting selfies of course). ~James

  1. The tree carvings brought tears to my eyes. Not because of the loss of what’s now gone (though I’m mildly sad that I’ll never get to see those lovely antebellum homes). Not because of the heartbreak that must have been suffered by the people of Biloxi. But because of this example of the joyous possibility of creating something wonderful from devastating destruction. The rising and triumph of the human spirit through great heartbreak and destruction always leaves me awed, and affirms my faith and belief in the best that we are. The human spirit, it seems, is the one thing that’s indestructible. It rises again and again.

    Having said all that my favourite picture is the first one. Beautiful and captivating shot. I want to be on that beach. 🙂

    • Thanks Allison. We’ve been to Biloxi many times and it was one of our favorites on the Gulf Coast. So when we visited post-Katrina, we were heartbroken. I personally have never seen destruction on this scale, and it was astounding. And like New Orleans, Biloxi will never be the same, but the recovery is coming along nicely. I don’t think that I would have the fortitude to start over and rebuild in an area where the same thing could happen any year, but there are lots of hardy souls in Biloxi that are doing just that. They are strong-spirited folks for sure. ~James

      • i’ve never been back. when i first saw television footage of the destruction i wept so deeply that i never wanted to see any more photos of the damage. i fear it will break my heart to see it all wiped away, though your post shows how survivors reach down and find strength to move forward.

        someone sent my photos of my aunt’s ‘lot,’ and one of the grand old oak trees still stands.


      • Lisa we were just casual visitors to Biloxi, and were appalled at the damage. As someone with personal ties there, I can believe that it would be difficult for you to face. It’s interesting, that when we were there post-Katrina, we were on our way to New Orleans. After seeing the damage in Biloxi, we decided that we really couldn’t take seeing the damage in New Orleans and we canceled our visit. Biloxi will never be the same for sure. ~James

  2. James I am delighted with the find of your tree art….or shall I say totem poles? I love the idea of dead or cut down trees being used to create such beautiful images.

    • Jeff, I had the same thought about it being almost 10 years. I’m sure that there’s still lots of pain when the residents think about Katrina, but maybe this art helps to them look forward. ~James

    • Thanks Dixie, I didn’t know about Galveston and did a bit of research. The marine animals of Biloxi are cool, but I also like the variety of styles used in Galveston. Thanks for the headsup. ~James

  3. oh my!  you’re going to be all over my stomping grounds!  

    Ode to 668 East Beach

    Ode to 668 East Beach The Daily Prompt rolled through my inbox this morning and stated: “A place from your past or childhood, one that you’re fond of, is destroyed. W… View on Preview by Yahoo

    and did you by chance see the walter anderson museum? this link mentions his work and there’s a youtube about him in this post-  Timeout for Art: Happy in Nature Timeout for Art: Happy in Nature “The aspect of Nature is devout.  Like the figure of Jesus, she stands with bended head, and hands folded.  The happiest man is he who learns fro… View on Preview by Yahoo  

     if you’re driving up along the mississippi, stop and see lovely st francisville…

    if you have time to see lovely st francisville btween baton rouge and woodville (ms) it’s worth  a few hours’ strolll. that sweet little church alone is worth a stop..

    wish i were traveling w/you..  i sent you a note about the canoe business grand opening in ntz…

    buen viaje!\ z ________________________________

    • Lisa, I remember reading this post when you initially published it. As I said earlier, for someone with personal ties and experiences in Biloxi, the news must have been devastating. You Aunt Lulu’s house sounds wonderful, and it and all the houses like it are gone forever. There are a few brave souls rebuilding on Beach Blvd., but of course, the new houses can’t equal the old classics that were there before. Re: St. Francisville, I’ve been there. And as it happens, it was a momentous trip. I was on a solo cycling tour from St. Augustine, FL to Beaumont, TX, and I passed through St. Francisville. It is a charming town. It was a big deal for me because I crossed the Mississippi River there and it was one of the few times that I stayed in a hotel. I had been camping most of the way, and I found a small, quaint motor court hotel that didn’t mind me rolling my bike and gear into the room. Thanks for all the info. ~James

  4. The resourcefulness people share at such times is quite amazing, James. It must have been an unimaginable nightmare. I was watching Christchurch in New Zealand on the news yesterday (our young Royals, Will and Kate are there) and marvelling at the regeneration there too.
    That first carving of the dolphins is incredible 🙂 Safe travels!

    • After a disaster of this magnitude Jo, the community must pull together. The harsh reality is that a destroyed city can wither and die without lots of effort from lots of people. Biloxi is a wonderful example of community spirit and resourcefulness, and while it won’t ever be the same, it will go forward. ~James

    • Thanks Anita. This really is a heartwarming story. It must take a good eye to effectively use an existing piece of wood, and the herons are exactly that. Michelangelo said the his statues were already in each piece of stone, he just had to chip away pieces to find them. ~James

    • By the time we arrived most of the debris had been removed, but the destruction was obvious everywhere. And in fact, it’s still obvious today. Hurricanes are scary, and I’m always amazed when people take them lightly. The town is healing, and that’s a good thing. ~James

  5. I too, visited Biloxi shortly after Katrina, James. And I agree with Alison. The joy is in seeing the way the human spirit bounces back. I am always amazed at our capacity for recovery. –Curt

    • Curt, these folks in Biloxi have strong constitutions for sure. This is the city’s second major devastation, and they continue on. I’m not sure that I could manage it. ~James

  6. I forget how wide-spread the devastation was. Thank you for reminding me that recovery is still in progress for everyone effected by Katrina. I love what Biloxi has done here. The line of the dolphin carving is so striking.

  7. This post really warmed my heart this morning. Those sculptures are beautiful and I’m always so impressed by the leaders of a community who can visualize this kind of transformation. It’s more than just rebuilding, it’s leaving a thoughtful reminder … and like Sueslaght, I also have a soft spot for totems 🙂

    • Thanks Joanne. Terri and I love a good scavenger hunt, and these beachside carvings were perfect. When we visited post-Katrina, we saw some of the original, destroyed trees and they were sad to see. But, this truly is a marvelous transformation. ~James

  8. Pingback: X = Xyloglyphy | My Life Lived Full

    • Thanks so much Joanne for the link to our post and the photo you included. You’ve certainly introduced me to a new word, and composed a great post in the process. ~James @

  9. My husband and I just returned from Biloxi on the 15th. Thanks for taking the time to take pictures of all the carvings – my favorite one (the one I have a picture of) is a very large eagle sculpted by Marlin—in front of the commissary/px at Keesler Air Base. The Katrina trees were on the top of my list for the visit…little did I know I would pass them two or three times a day, touring from Pass Christian to Moss Point! Just love Mississippi, ya’ll.

    • If you get back down to Biloxi, you should check these out Juliann. They really are cool, and they’re scattered all along the boulevard on the beach. You’d probably also get a kick out of the improvements they’ve made in Biloxi. ~James

    • Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog Anna. Biloxi had enough ravaged property and trees that had to be bulldozed, so leaving these trees as whimsical artwork was the perfect memorial. They’re an artistic reminder of the past, as well as an affirmation of perseverance and determination for the future. ~James

    • Thanks very much for reblogging our post on the Biloxi tree art. As we said in the post, we saw Biloxi not long after Katrina and were heartbroken. Seeing this whimsical tree art was heartening and tangible proof that this pleasant beachside town was on the mend. ~James

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