When Del Mar resident Jack Jaeger moved to his home on 10th Street in 1981, there was a huge, full Monterey cypress tree across the street, one of many left from the late 1800s when 10th Street was Del Mar’s cypress-lined main street. But over the years, the tree died and withered, eventually snapping in two after a storm last year and leaving a 15-foot-tall stump.
“I have always had a thing for those cypress trees. They live to be 120 years old and they have been a beautiful statement in the area,” said Jaeger. “Then, they die away and leave a big beautiful skeleton.”
Jaeger said he stared at that big cypress stump for more than a year, taking in its natural arc that he said looked like a dolphin emerging from the water, before he decided to actually share that visual image with the community.
After collecting some contributions and blessings from his neighbors, Jaeger commissioned local woodworker Andrew Cullum to carve the stump into a work of art — in the form of a dolphin — a gift to passers-by and neighbors made from a formation he considered to be a natural gift in itself.
After several meetings to discuss Jaeger’s vision and 10 full days of carving and chainsawing, Cullum wrapped up the wood sculpture in mid-January, but the project didn’t come without challenges.
“I started carving into it and found it was totally rotted out,” said Cullum, who was born, raised and is still living in Encinitas. “The inside was powder and there was a lot of termite damage. We had an idea of exactly what we wanted, but we had to change it.”
Cullum redrew plans and resumed work, and said Jaeger was completely understanding of the road block.
“When he saw the condition of the stump, he said, ‘So, are you going to make lemonade?’” Cullum said. “It goes along with the saying, ‘If life gives you a lemon, are you going to make lemonade?’”
Cullum’s tallest project to date ended successfully in the contemporary form of a dolphin protruding into the sky, the backdrop of the ocean to fall behind it for years to come. And the longtime artisan said he enjoyed bringing his 9-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, to the worksite, watching whales and sunsets and dolphins with her as he completed his work from high atop the scaffolding.
Jaeger described the finished work as “amazingly beautiful,” a sight that people continuously stop and gawk at.
“The sun sets right through it,” Jaeger said. “It’s magic.”
The source of that magic doesn’t just happen overnight. Cullum has been working with wood as far back as age 9, when he said he would chisel away at blocks in his backyard under the training and inspiration of his father, who taught 6th grade in the Encinitas School District. He later found work under artist Austine Wood in this early 20s, and then became inspired by local wood- and glass-worker David Frisk. He also worked in the 1980s in the once industrial area that is now called the Cedros Design District in Solana Beach, and he still has professional relationships with several of the businesses there.