Amidst tough times, a family has worked together to bring joy to their lives and the lives of others through art.

Last weekend, Austin resident Nancy Stallcup found herself stumped when facing the remnants of a rotting tree in her sister’s front yard.

The trunk had plagued the yard of Stallcup’s sister, Seguin resident Josie Vigil, for years after many failed attempts to unearth the bole, Stallcup said.

“[It’s a] massive tree in her yard that was dying and she needed to cut it down,” Stallcup said. “She could never find someone that would do the whole job. So she kept hiring and hiring people to just chip away, chip away until it finally got to this stump, and she couldn’t find anyone that would tackle removing the stump. It’s a very ugly tree and has two big holes that look like gloomy eyes just staring out at you.”

With the option of removing the stump off the table and ample time on her hands due to the coronavirus-related quarantine, Stallcup decided to transform the trunk into something straight out of a J.R.R. Tolkien novel, she said.

“I’m an avid crafter, and I just happened to be on Pinterest, and there was a picture of a tree stump that they turned into a fairy house,” Stallcup said. “So I proceeded to get things together, and I told her that I would decorate it so it wouldn’t be so ugly, and there was probably no solution to getting rid of it.”

It took Stallcup more than 12 hours to decorate the stump, which now boasts a bevy of fantasy creatures and themes from oversized mushrooms to garden gnomes along with decorative lights and baubles that bright up Vigil’s yard after sundown.

“My niece was the one that was most excited,” Stallcup said. “I wanted to wait to make sure the lights would come on at night, and that was the biggest reveal. I mean, she was really excited to see the lights come on at night.”

The centerpiece of the art installation is a red door decorated with a miniature wreath donning a Fourth of July motif that Stallcup plans to interchange throughout the holidays, she said.

However, decorating the stump was no walk in the park requiring heavy lifting and a close call with a fall from a ladder, Stallcup said.

Creating the piece required the whole family to come together with Stallcup’s niece Lili Vigil providing an extra set of hands and Josie doing what she could to shield her family from the burning hot sun, Josie said.

“I’m 71. I can’t do much anymore, but I had an umbrella, and I would try to keep the sun off of her (Stallcup) because there’s no shade there at all,” Josie said. “[But] I’m the one that got all burned on one side trying to move that umbrella to keep the sun off of her.”

Josie, who shares a 20-year difference with Stallcup, said breathing new life into the tree trunk is among the many ways Stallcup betters her life.

“When I married, she was only 3 years old, so she treats me more like a mom,” Josie said. “Everybody has died out little by little, our parents, our uncles, our aunts, it’s just me and my sister. When I have to go to the doctor in San Antonio, she’ll come down and take me and anything major that happens here, she takes care of it.”

Josie’s home is located directly across from a local daycare. Since the completion of her yard art, she has noticed more and more families stopping to marvel at the installation.

“[The] daycare is not full like it always is, but we have a lot of kiddos that make their parents slow down and look at it,” she said.

Even the local critters have taken a liking to Stallcup’s creation, Josie said.

“The lights are supposed to resemble water on the flowers…but I can see from my bedroom at night that it changes now,” she said, suspecting squirrels might be the culprits.

For those fighting through the hardships of quarantine, spending a laugh-filled day with the family is a great way to alleviate an aching heart, Stallcup said.

“Given the time that we’re in right now with the pandemic, and with the social unrest, there’s so very little to smile about,” she said. “This was a lot of hard work, but it’s brought me joy doing it, and every time I look at it, I smile. The people that I’ve shared the pictures with it makes them smile. So it’s worth it in this time.”

Joe Martin is a staff writer for the Seguin Gazette. You can e-mail him at joe.martin@seguingazette.com .

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