Lemons to Lemonade: Biloxi’s Tree Art

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After days of destruction, Hurricane Harvey continues its path into the heartland of America. Authorities are calling the destruction and flooding in Houston and along the Texas coast some of the worst in US history.

The coverage of the recovery will dwindle from the news, but our hearts go out to those affected, who will be struggling for years to put their lives back together. It’s hard to imagine now, but in time, life in Texas will get back to normal. And for proof, all it takes is a look to the east to a Katrina casualty: Biloxi, Mississippi.

* * * * * 

Imagine the impact of 125 mph winds and a 22-foot storm surge on an unprotected 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 more than a decade, Biloxi is still healing. On a recent visit we saw first hand a small but encouraging sign that the city is on the mend: dead, beachfront trees carved into playful sea creatures.


We visited Biloxi 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. Katrina’s savage winds didn’t discriminate, and most buildings, new and old alike, were leveled to their foundations. Block after block of centuries-old oak trees were ravaged and dead or dying. 

But today, thanks to local grit and determination, new construction lines the beachfront with homes and businesses replacing the hurricane’s destruction. And many of the dead trees have been transformed from stark reminders into whimsical art. 

Seahorse FI

Biloxi’s Katrina Sculpture project began in 2007, when city 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 the Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau reported that the sculptures are one of the top attractions on the Mississippi Coast.


This public art project is a classic example of lemons to lemonade, and a visual reminder that every end is a new beginning.


Happy Trails,
James & Terri

Last updated September 2, 2017

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Author: gallivance.net

We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at gallivance.net.

64 thoughts

    1. 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. 🙂

    1. 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

      1. 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.


      2. 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.

    1. I hadn’t thought about it Sue, but you’re right, these are indeed totems. I remember your totem post and question about totem locations in other parts of the world. Well, you can now add Biloxi, Mississippi to the list. ~James

    1. 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

    1. 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 playamart.wordpress.com 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 playamart.wordpress.com 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 ________________________________

    1. 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!

    1. 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

    1. 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

    1. 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

    1. 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 🙂

    1. 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

    1. I don’t know if you guys made it over to Biloxi LuAnn, but it has always been one of our fun stopovers on trips along the Gulf Coast. It’s great to see the city recovering. ~James

    1. 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 @ Gallivance.net

  8. 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.

  9. Aw! My son was stationed near Biloxi about 5 years ago, but we didn’t really explore much but the base. I wish we would have seen thse sculptures. What a creative idea!

    1. 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

    1. 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

    1. 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

    1. Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog. I’m sure you also must have read Erik Larson’s excellent book “Isaac’s Storm” which detailed the terrible 1900 hurricane. Before reading his book I had no idea about the incredible destruction and loss of life. Given your blog focus, you might like our post on a 900-year old oak in Brunswick, Georgia.

  10. I have wonderful memories of Biloxi and Gulfport, where my aunt and uncle lived. When Katrina hit, my uncle had already died. My aunt’s home was so badly damaged that she moved to a daughter’s in North Carolina. Repairs were so slow that she was never able to return before she died.

    1. Peggy, we returned to Biloxi a couple of years ago, and the city has made a comeback for sure. But, even after 12 years, there are still signs of the destruction which will probably never go away. I’m sorry to hear about your aunt. At that time in her life that must have been heartbreaking. ~James

    1. Dee, with its wonderful, white sand beach and row of antebellum mansions one hundred yards away, Biloxi was such and unusual and charming place. What was surreal was to see it all destroyed. But you’re right, art frees the mind to think of other things. ~James

  11. I, too, thought immediately of Galveston’s tree carvings, which I also photographed and wrote about after Ike. I had no idea the same thing had been done in Biloxi; it would be fun to see these some day. I’m not sure what will emerge from our current chaos, particularly down the coast where Harvey made landfall, but in time, the creative and independent sorts in that part of the world surely will find a way.

    Isaac’s Storm gets a lot of publicity, but if you haven’t picked up The Complete Story of the Galveston Horror, you should. It’s a contemporary compilation by John Coulter of first-hand accounts offered by survivors, published in 1900. It includes a list of the dead: not only in Galveston, but also in all the little villages and settlements around the area. There are a lot of family names included that I recognize, but didn’t know were part of that early history.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation Linda. I googled it and it shouldn’t be too hard to get my hands on a copy. One of the saddest things about this tragedy is that the people there had no warning. When we lived in St. Augustine Beach, Florida we rode out a couple of Cat 1 storms, so I’ve seen the process first hand. The amazing thing is that before the storm hits it can be a beautiful, normal, blue-sky day, and when the outer bands of rain and wind arrive it seems like just another thunderstorm. But when the storm really cranks up, it seems that the wind and rain will never stop. I can imagine this is exactly what happened in Galveston, except at a Cat 4 level. After seeing Cat 1, I can’t imagine Cat 4 and how terrifying it must have been. ~James

  12. It is heartening to see how Biloxi has recovered, albeit slowly and with great effort. It is so sad to see the enormity of destruction in Texas. So overwhelming for so many thousands.
    I have been thinking of the two of you and hoping all is well.

    1. Sue, I’m sure that once things dry up, the size of the tragedy in Texas will be huge and probably much bigger than anyone predicts. It’s bad enough to have a hurricane blow through, but when a storm of this magnitude rolls in and then wobbles around for a few days, I can’t imagine all the damage the winds, rains, floods and storm surge can do.

      And thanks for checking in, we are both fine. We’ve had a quiet summer and have an autumn trip planned for Europe, so all is well. Hope all is good there. ~James

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