Sculpture road trip: There’s a house in Bow, Wash., that will stop you in your tracks. It’s teeming with wild animals … an elephant and an alligator, rhino and wild horse.
There’s even a lion guarding the front door! But the animals are not real. Each one is a detailed sculpture, cultivated with driftwood from local beaches by artist and creator Joe Treat.
Visiting the sculpture garden
My children barely have time to unbuckle their seat belts before oohing and aahing at the statues standing in the grass and on Joe Treat’s driveway.
“Is this where we’re going? Is this a museum?” my sons (ages 7 and 9) ask.
Joe Treat greets us at our car door with a jovial smile and a wave hello. He tells us that he’ll take us around his property, but we have a task: Choose which one is our favorite.
My younger son, Simon, is quick to answer, “I like the lion … and the dolphin … and …” It’s hard not to like everything we see immediately.
“Look on the roof! There’s a spider!” observes my older son. A huge tarantula lies sprawled across the roof of Treat’s house, while a brachiosaurus peers through the bushes.
How the sculptures are made
Walking around Treat’s yard we touch and observe several of the pieces closely. It’s easy to admire the curved pieces of wood, cut to look like the tail of an alligator or the mane of a horse. Large nuts and bolts are used to secure pieces together.
“What do you think the eyes are made of?” asks Treat.
“Marbles? Glass?” the boys ask.
Some are made from golf balls, while other animals have light bulbs, marbles or drawer handles for eyes. Some of the animals have whiskers made out of paintbrush bristles.
Entering the beast
Standing in the middle of the lawn is a large elephant with tusks and a long trunk. The wood is etched with lines on the trunk to mimic an elephant’s skin. “Let’s go inside!” Joe Treat invites us into the interior of the sculpture.
My boys hesitate for a moment, but after a few jokes, they crawl in through the underbelly.
Inside we stand upright and see the support system of the large beast. Treat describes the labor involved in putting the elephant together, commenting on stabilizing the animal and all its pieces. He also mentions that the elephant is a symbol of Thailand, his wife’s native home.
Where it all began
By day, Joe Treat is an insurance agent, managing a team of other agents in the Bellingham area.
Treat began sculpting six years ago after going on a trip to Thailand with his wife. While there, he visited a workshop where artisans made horses out of teakwood. Feeling inspired, he came home and started working on his newfound hobby.
Treat is partial to the Jurassic period, having made a little triceratops as his first sculpture. “I was a dinosaur-loving kid. That’s probably why I like dinosaurs so much.” After creating his first piece, he placed it outside and gained a following. The rest is history.
With no formal training, Treat’s passion and vision have turned him into a well-liked artist and creator.
“I’ve always wanted to do something after I retire, and I just found this to be something [that] I loved to do,” Treat says. “I just can’t believe that I’m called an artist. It’s been wonderful.”
Beach-combing for wood is something Treat loves to do. Sometimes he locates driftwood using Google’s satellite photos, and, at other times, he leaves the process up to chance.
He says, “Sometimes I’ll find a piece that inspires me and other times I’m looking for pieces that I need to make something that I’ve already thought about.”
Treat studies pictures and skeletal structures as he builds — and to help inspire him in his creations. He tries to find pieces of wood and bark that can give his sculptures texture and movement.
Where the magic happens
We venture out to see the rest of the sculptures and take a walk into his workshop. Treat shows us his band saws, the variety of tools he uses and sketches of his next sculpture — a Sasquatch!
He’s also working on a mother giraffe and her baby. Portions of the head and body are complete, while the rest of the structure stands teetering on four legs outside the shop. He props a few more pieces onto the top, showcasing the delicate balance he has to ensure so the giraffe doesn’t tip forward.
My children see the stacks of driftwood, one on top of another. Some are on the ground, and they begin to let their imaginations run wild. “I think this would make a great pterodactyl!” and “You can use this for a triceratops plate!” are a couple of their suggestions.
We’ve been to a few beaches since our visit to Treat’s home — and now see driftwood in a whole new way. We pick up pieces and wonder, “What would Joe Treat do with these?”
Sharing the work
Having completed over 80 sculptures, Treat shares much of his work with the public and also sells to interested buyers. “I get attached to the pieces I make, so I make sure to visit the ones that I’ve given to people when I can.”
Treat invites everyone to come visit his “zoo” and when they’re there, to knock on his door. Treat loves spending a few moments answering questions and walking around.
“I love hearing cars screech to a stop and reverse back!” says Treat. “They are surprised at all the animals. I invite everyone to come by and visit.”
We piled back into the car after taking another tour around the grounds. “Can we come back, Mom, please? We have to see the other things Joe makes!” both kids say.
I know we’ll be back to visit, for sure. We don’t want to miss seeing the life that Joe Treat breathes into each animal sculpture.
Bonus ideas for a day trip
After seeing the amazing sculptures at Joe Treat’s house, we stopped by Bow Hill Blueberries for delicious ice cream and blueberry treats. (You can stop there for U-pick blueberries and fresh blueberry juice too.)
Stop at Larrabee State Park for beach-combing, low tides, hiking and hanging out.
Explore Bellingham with its cute shops, lakes and bustling bay.
Know before you go
Visit the artist’s home at 6751 Worline Road Bow, Wash. Bow is about an hour and 15 minutes north of Seattle by car.
Knock on the artist’s door if you have questions about his work (or to say hi).
View Joe Treat’s website for a preview.
You can find Joe Treat’s other sculptures at Price Sculpture Forest in Coupeville on Whidbey Island; San Juan Islands Sculpture Park in Roche Harbor on San Juan Island; and Madrona Grove Sculpture Garden in Anacortes.
More day trips:
Parent review: Hidden fun at Whidbey’s Price Sculpture Forest
Rattlesnake Ridge with kids: It’s not easy, but you can do it!
6 great Seattle trails to hike this summer