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Pion gets a sweet deal

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By Kirsten Laskey

According to Petr Jandacek’s philosophy, when life hands out lemons, make lemonade and when life hands out willow trees, make willow wizards.

This philosophy was put into practice when a willow tree at Piñon Elementary School, where Jandacek works as an art teacher, had to be cut down because its roots were damaging sewer lines.

The willow tree had been a fixture at Piñon since 1986, so not everyone was that pleased with the decision to chop it down but with a little artistic creativity, Jandacek proved a something sweet could be squeezed from a sour situation.

Jandacek explained that the principal, Megan Lee, asked him to carve the schools’ mascot, the panther, out of tree’s trunk.

While work has begun to transform a portion of the willow wood into a panther and its infants, Jandacek saw something else in the tree’s knobby and rough trunk.

He saw Albert Einstein or what he likes to call the Willow Wizard. Plus, it seemed appropriate to carve Einstein’s head because “Einstein (is) sort of the godfather of Los Alamos,” Jandacek said.

The work to carve Einstein’s head from the willow tree began in mid-September. Jandacek said he spent at least 100 hours on it.

He wasn’t the only one to create this work of art. Jaret McDonald came with his chainsaw to cut the sculpture from what Jandacek calls the tree trunk matrix.

Once freed, the sculpture was transported to Piñon Elementary where students sanded different areas of Einstein’s face.

“They were so excited,” said Stephanie Rittner, another art teacher at Piñon Elementary School. “It was beautiful to watch them. It was a really nice moment.”

“It’s their school, it is their sculpture,” Jandacek said. “I want them to feel invested in the project.”

With the sculpture completed, it will soon be hung from a wall in the main lobby.

Jandacek said he hopes the sculpture will become shiny from the oils in students’ hands as they touch the sculpture for good luck or just out of affection.

Jandacek has taught at Los Alamos Public Schools for 36 years, during which he has produced wood sculptures for several of the elementary schools.

For instance, Mountain Elementary School has the mountain lion, and Barranca Mesa has the bobcat.

But Piñon Elementary is special to Jandacek not only because he worked there on and off for decades but because all three of his children attended kindergarten through sixth grade at the school.

Therefore, he felt it deserved a little extra artwork.

“He’s so willing to donate the work to us,” Melanie McKinley of the Piñon PTO, said.

“I love doing it,” Jandacek explained.

He added his wife has said he is happiest when he is creating a piece of sculpture.