Happy Little Trees

Malvern residents and visitors are noticing a change around Main Street. A change that is credited to the collective minds of the Malvern Area Betterment Association (MABA), a Department of Cultural Affairs Grant and the artistry of Orlo “Woody” Jones.

Last summer, Malvern was awarded a grant from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs worth $292,000 along with part of its designation as one of  Iowa’s “Great Places.”

Malvern Bank matched $172,000 and other agencies gave smaller grants. The money was to be used for cultural development and beautification over a three-year time period. In less than one year, many projects and ideas have already come to fruition.

Between new signage around town, new businesses coming in and renovations to some of Malvern’s oldest buildings, Main Street is turning heads.

There is one project, however, that is truly standing out. Unique metal trees are being placed around town. Two of the trees are already standing; one in Heritage Park and one in front of Malvern Bank.

More are planned at places such as the community building, Kohll’s Pharmacy, Club 321 and the lot between Mulholland’s Grocery and the Physician’s Clinic.

The creator of the trees, Woody Jones, chuckles and says that he is not an artist, but admirers of his trees may disagree with that statement.

“I’ve been doing work like this for over 50 years now,” Jones said.

Jones previously worked for Keiwit Construction and is self-taught as far as welding and metal work goes.

“I didn’t go to school for it. I just learned by making mistakes and figuring out different ways to do things,” he said.

The third tree is set to be “planted” in front of Club 321. Each tree will be different, with a unique design for each location.

“They (MABA) showed me pictures from the Internet of ideas they had for each one,” said Jones. “That’s when I put my own ideas to it and change it a little bit.”

Putting his own ideas and artistry into each tree is important to Jones and he admits that he is his own critic.

“The first one took me nine weeks to complete,” said Jones. “If it’s not how I want it or I’m not happy with it, I’m going to keep at it until I am happy.”

The first tree, which rests in the center of Heritage Park, towers over 14 feet tall and has around 1200 leaves.

Jones has had assistance from Rob Pratch in Glenwood, who cut the leaves for the tree in front of Malvern Bank. This tree boasts well over 400 stainless steel leaves. Jones even kept a sheet of the stainless steel that they cut the leaves from.

The detail of trees stands out as every nook is present and little metal birds sit on the branches.
The iron is bought from Sioux City and shaped and sculpted until satisfaction. The tree placed in Heritage Park weighed around one ton.

Zack Jones, Woody’s nephew, had first approached his uncle with the idea for the trees nearly three years ago, but talk turned more serious after the grant was awarded.

Woody Jones has been asked by his nephew to bring his fire pits to the Malvern Farmer’s market during the summers, which people really seemed to enjoy. He also made the butterflies that sit outside of the Malvern Public Library, which are very noticeable and colorful.

“I’ve made 30 or 40 fire pits now, but I’ve lost track,” Woody chuckled again. He admits he was hesitant on the trees, knowing what a large task it was, but was eventually convinced.

“Woody was always who we had in mind, knowing he is local and that he has done a lot of tree-themed work,” Zack Jones said. “Whatever Woody does, he goes way above and beyond any expectations.”

Zack Jones said the trees are just one project to be done with the grant money. Each project is part of the larger idea of the beautification of Malvern. With a mural going up, the Wabash Trace getting more attention and the Farmer’s Market drawing large crowds on Saturday evenings in Heritage Park, the projects are going well.

“The trees and other projects that we do are a group effort,” he said. “We have community members that really care and do a lot.”

Zack Jones said MABA and the community has made quite a bit of progress in a small amount of time and he wants to keep the momentum going.

The Opinion-Tribune

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