GNOME HOME GROVE

Artist LeAnn Oman sits inside the gnome village she created out of fallen tree stumps at a cemetery in Biwabik. Oman noticed several broken trees at the cemetery following a powerful thunderstorm two years ago and has been turning the damaged trees into a public work of art.

BIWABIK — Several gnomes have made their homes in the Biwabik cemetery.

Following a storm which knocked down trees in 2016, a gnome community heard of the Bavarian town in Northern Minnesota and decided to building their homes, with the assistance of LeAnn Oman, in some of the stumps.

Oman, who has a seasonal campsite in Biwabik, saw the devastation and knew that the trees were meant for more than just firewood. “I decided to learn how to chainsaw carve,” she stated over the phone Wednesday. “So, that is what I did. I went and bought a chainsaw at Aldi. I didn’t even know how to start it.”

Crediting her husband for the inspiration behind her new hobby, “He implied I couldn’t do it, which meant that I would do it,” Oman began to practice.

With news of the storm’s destruction circulating, Oman was told of the cemetery. “I had never been there,” said Oman of the cemetery. “The damage was horrible. The massive trees with at least 100 year growth were just everywhere. All I could think was that this cemetery is a place that is full of people’s family members.”

Returning again that winter, Oman saw that, like many areas across the region, the cemetery had yet to be restored. Oman decided to get to work.

“I was terrified that I was going to jail,” admitted Oman looking back. “I knew it was private property and didn’t know what consequences would be.” Working in secret that next spring, Oman would arrive to the cemetery early in the morning moving trees and carving stumps into gnome houses.

“One time while at the grocery store I heard ‘Did you hear what someone is doing at the cemetery?’ I didn’t know how people would feel,” recalled Oman. “I’m not a citizen of Biwabik. I didn’t know what they would think. To my surprise, once it got out, people really loved it and was nice about it.”

Soon the community too began expanding the gnome village by adding painted rocks, solar lights and wind chimes. A sign reading “Gnome Home Grove” is at the site.

Oman’s focus is on respecting the space. “I don’t want to take away from the reason people go there in the first place. I want to be respectful.” The village is small and doesn’t take over the cemetery but provides something positive for visitors.

“I have heard of little kids who have lost their parents and have to go there for the funeral,” said Oman. “They see the gnome village and it is a little light at the end of that horrible tunnel.”

With recent construction on the sewer system, a Biwabik friend lost a tree that had great sentimental value. Oman received part of the trunk and has just completed the newest gnome house which she installed this weekend.

When Oman first started this project she found dozens of booze bottles and knew that whatever she created might be vandalized or destroyed. “Whenever you are doing something out of the goodness of your heart you have to accept that something might happen,” she explained. “You can create art, give it away and not to have to care what happens — just feel the joy of creating and giving...I decided, I’m going to risk it and do random act of art and if it gets torn down so be it.”

Although the gnome village won’t grow much bigger, Oman has adopted the Biwabik cemetery and is planning to carve a bench of angels for visitors.

From not knowing how to start a chainsaw, Oman has grown into a chainsaw artist and competes around the world. Next month she will be traveling to an international competition in Montana and next year will be competing in Finland. “From that horrible nightmare of a storm that devastated the land, something good came from this. I would have never touched a chainsaw if that hadn’t happened.”

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