The storm that blew through Augusta on Friday left heaps of crumpled pine and twisted hardwood behind.
Most of that wood piled in yards and on city streets will be reduced to mulch, but a few select pieces will become something much more interesting, thanks to Brian Rust.
Rust, an art professor at Augusta State University, specializes in transforming scrap wood into sculpture. Sometimes he builds totem pieces out of odd shapes stacked into towers, or shapes tangled branches into rustic rings or intricate nest-like creations.
A lot of those projects start with cast-off tree limbs or logs from landscaping projects left on the roadside.
On Tuesday, students in Rust’s wood carving class were working on chunks of a hackberry tree that was culled from his neighbor’s yard. He said hackberry is a soft, light-colored wood that carves well, perfect for his sculpture students.
When he saw they were taking down the tree, Rust called dibs right away.
“I told them, ‘You cut it up and roll it over to my side and I’ll take care of it,’ ” said Rust, who has been teaching sculpting at Augusta State for 20 years.
Although he works in other mediums, the Washington state native has always had an affinity for carving wood.
“I first worked for a sculptor as an apprentice in the Pacific Northwest,” Rust said. “That’s when I learned to carve wood.”
Rust had a collection of logs of various sizes and shapes waiting for the next project outside a warehouse on campus where his carving class meets. A weathered piece of what was once a huge sycamore sits beside chunks of walnut, magnolia, cedar and Carolina cherry.
A new load of incense cedar arrived Tuesday, thanks to Friday’s storm. Max Brown, Augusta State’s chief groundskeeper, said he immediately thought of Rust when the old cedar hit the ground. He’s been supplying the sculptor with material for years.
“Brian prefers as much as he can get,” Brown said. “He likes logs that are about 8 feet long.”
Rust said the storm, though unfortunate for some, was serendipitous for his purposes. His supply was starting to run low just when the carving class needed it most, with mid-terms coming up and students starting their final projects soon.
“This is a good time for some wood to fall in our laps,” he said.
On Tuesday, senior David Smith was trying to find a dragon in a large piece of hackberry. He studied the cylindrical shape for few minutes before attacking it with a reciprocating saw.
“I just try to cut away the big chunks first,” he said.