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Cape artist turns mahogany tree into a piece of owl art

By Staff | Jan 30, 2020

A local artist has carved a towering statue of the Cape’s most recognizable feathery friends from a mahogany tree that once sat on Cape Coral Parkway. Now, he’s looking for a place for it to call home.

Phil Rivera, a 30-year Cape Coral resident and skilled craftsman, created a family of burrowing owls from scratch using a large tree that was removed from the corner of Vincennes and Cape Coral Parkway where the old Napa Auto was located.

Bernie Dougherty, of Kobayashi Dojo located right behind the old Napa, made arrangements to have the tree saved after it was removed by the city, with the vision of repurposing it into some form of art.

Dougherty called up Henry Posey of HL Posey Builders to see what he thought he could do with the trunk.

“That’s when I called Phil,” Posey said.

Weeks later, Posey and Rivera finally got the tree to Posey’s shop — also where Rivera rents workshop space. The company that brought the tree over was going to cut it down in size, as original plans were to make a small carving from it. Rivera had something else in mind.

“I said, ‘Leave the whole tree. Don’t cut it,'” Rivera said.

Now, Rivera and Posey were looking up at a 14-foot mahogany tree in the shop, branches and all.

A temporary base was put on and the tree — thanks to some help from a shop across the street from HL Posey Builders — was stood up. That’s when it hit Rivera.

“When it stood up, I saw it,” Rivera said. “I saw a momma owl up there and her two babies.”

From there, Rivera started bringing his imaginative idea to life, that is, after going through five chainsaws in the process.

“Every one of them broke down,” Rivera said. “I finally got a chainsaw that worked. I mean, I have small carving tools, but nothing for that size.”

Rivera started working on the tree last September, and every day he would carve on the tree hours at a time.

Eventually, his visions started getting clearer, adding a T-perch atop the carving above the owl family from large branches.

Rivera took on the project on his own dime and time — but said after lots of prayer with Posey, he understood that it was OK to create the work for the city and residents of Cape Coral pro bono. And because he loves the work he does.

“The flood gates opened after that,” Rivera said. “It just started coming together — because I’ve never carved something that big.”

From there, things really started taking off.

“Every day it would come to life a little bit more and a little bit more,” Rivera said.

Finally, by the end of October, the statue was finished. As it stands, the ode to the owls soars 10-feet-5-inches high.

Rivera also air brushed meticulous details, such as the color of the owls, their eyes, and coral stone.

The mother owl sits above her younglings just under the T-perch, with one little one turning its head almost upside down in that adorable fashion burrowing owls sometimes do.

Rivera said he will stain the statue with a protective coating to last depending on where it will be placed. He also will add a proper base when the location is determined.

All in all, Rivera and Posey want the statue to sit somewhere where residents of the city, and visitors, can enjoy it.

“One of my concerns is that I didn’t want to do all of this work and it end up on private property,” Rivera said. “I want it in a public place.”

He has contemplated selling the statue, but said to have his work displayed in the city would be an honor.

“It would mean a lot for me,” Rivera said of being able to see his art in the city. “For one, it’s a God-given gift that I can share with others. To be successful doesn’t have to mean you’re making a lot of money — you’re using your gifts and the joy that I feel inside from finishing it and sharing it with others is more than any money I could make. The challenge, and succeeding at it, is the biggest satisfaction for me.”

Rivera and Posey said they have talked with some city leaders on where to put this statue, but nothing has come to fruition just yet.

Locations that have been discussed include the south facing pedestal of the Vincennes Parkway/47th Terrace roundabout, Rotary Park and the City Hall main floor entrance lobby.

For Rivera, art has been a passion his entire life, starting off mechanical drawing in high school and eventually got into carpentry.

He now owns a furniture and art company called Felipe’s Creations, where his slogan is, “Mother Nature makes the parts, and I put them together.”

Faith is also very important to both Rivera and Posey, as the pair met at Cape Christian working on set designs for children’s productions. A friendship grew from there.

The pair hope to find a home for the owl family in the near future.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj