By Richard Ilgenfritz, Mar. 29, 2017
The bunnies are coming back to a home to Villanova – thanks to some chainsaws.
The iconic carved bunnies statue that has sat for decades on the Stoneleigh mansion property near Spring Mill and County Line roads in Villanova is being re-carved from a new tree trunk by artist Marty Long and his fellow carver, Jaz Katz.
Long, who carved the original bunny statue some 30 years ago, was asked to do a new statue after the original one was showing its age and beginning to deteriorate. The bunnies were originally commissioned by property’s owners, the late John and Chara Haas.
Last month, crews from the Natural Lands Trust, the current owners of the mansion property, had the older statue removed. On March 11, crews from Shreiner Tree Care then removed the decaying 4,500-pound trunk using a crane and brought in a new 26,000-pound oak trunk, placing it where the former statute stood.
Long started carving the latest version of the bunnies the first day of spring and was expected to be complete by the end of the week.
“We’re trying to keep the design,” Long said Wednesday as he took a short break from the carving. “It’s too iconic to change it. We’ll do a little better but it’s basically the same design.”
Long said it can typically take him about a week to do a tree-carving job but it depends on the size of the project.
So how did the bunny statue come about?
Long said he was at the mansion doing some other work there when Chara Haas spoke to him about doing a rabbit statute.“She originally wanted one large rabbit,” Long recalled.
He pitched the idea for a design of a mother, father and five bunnies to represent the Haas family. “She just wanted it to be fun and make people smile,” Long said.
After it was removed, the original Haas bunny statue was to be assessed to see it can be salvaged. If so, it will be displayed in the Stoneleigh estate’s mansion.
Shortly after he started the original project, Long recalled getting a visitor who stopped and asked what he was doing. Long, who had been given the combination to a small gate on the property, said this man, dressed in an older style, but neatly pressed suit, had ridden up on a bicycle.
“He leaned the bike against the fence and asked me how I’m doing,” Long recalled. “I said, ‘fine,’” as he was not sure whom he’d just let on the property through the unsecured gate.
“The man then asked, ‘What are you doing?’” Long said. “I said, ‘well I’m making some bunnies.’”
It wasn’t until another time, upon meeting John Haas more formally, that he realized he’d been speaking with the owner of the home.
The original Haas bunnies sculpture was one of the first stump carvings Long did. “I used to be an ice carver and then I did an owl on Upper Gulph Road,” Long said of his start.
Long began his career as a chef. “Chefs carve ice … vegetables, melons, butter …,” he said. Over time, other chefs began contacting him to do carvings for them and then people started asked him about doing the stump carvings.
After doing the Haas bunnies, his stump-carving career took off.
According to Long, 99 percent of the carving he does are with a chainsaw. He then finishes up with belt sanders.
Last year, the Haas’ family heirs donated the Stoneleigh site to the Natural Lands Trust. The group is in the process of preparing the grounds to be open for free access to the public. The opening is expected to take place sometime early next year.