Modern sculptures made of ancient redwoods goes on display in Santa Rosa

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KTVU) - A new redwood grove will open in June in the North Bay, featuring trees more than 1,000 years old.

"We measure by the inches and the growth rings," sculptor Bruce Johnson told KTVU, "so we can see when they are eight, nine hundred years old."

Johnson is busy moving 17 of his redwood sculptures into an outdoor exhibit space in Santa Rosa, no small job when the pieces are huge, and weigh between one and ten tons.

"These are all salvaged blocks from different parts of different trees, " he explained, pointing to a towering work called "Five Elements."

His creations begin in his Timber Cover studio as salvaged stumps left behind by logging and delivered to Johnson by the truckload - raw material but rare indeed.

"Ninety five percent of all the old growth trees have been cut, so it's sort of like coral or ivory," Johnson acknowledged.

He starts with a chainsaw and finishes with woodworking tools, working by hand.

It's not without hazard, as he showed half of a pinkie finger missing from an encounter with a blade. "I've thought about putting a tattoo on the end of that," Johnson shrugged, smiling.

Many of his pieces are in museums or private collections, and sell for upwards of $25,000 each.

The form and energy of the majestic redwood never fails to inspire him, and he creates a few such sculptures every year.

"Trimming off a broken edge or cutting out a piece of rot, turning it over and working with it, you've studied it," Johnson elaborated, "so I feel more like a tool in the process, rather than inflicting my will."

The collection will be the inaugural exhibit in a new one acre space north of Santa Rosa alongside Highway 101 on Mark West Springs Road.

It is sandwiched between the Sutter Hospital campus and the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, which owns the land.

The exhibit is appropriately titled, "Root 101."

"The sculpture garden will be an area to reflect and enjoy, " Anita Wigglesworth of the Arts Center told KTVU, '"and even though we are right next to 101, there is a sense of peace here."

But with heavy equipment lifting and placing the heavy pieces, the atmosphere is more painstaking than peaceful.

"You'll be able to climb up the copper orb and poke your head out and look around," enthused Johnson, as a five ton piece called "Outlook" was carefully tipped upright.

It has massive redwood sides but is hollow in the middle with a ladder inviting climbing.

The pieces will remain in place for two years, and access is free to the public when it opens June 6.