June 5, 2019

Israel Perez of Tree Stump Art works on a tarpon sculpture.

KEVIN WADLOW/Free Press Israel Perez of Tree Stump Art works on a tarpon sculpture.

ISLAMORADA — An encounter with an encroaching tree put Israel Perez on a path to his second career.

“I needed to get rid of a big tree by the house,” Perez said at Tree Stump Art, his outdoor wood-carving business at mile marker 86.6 on Plantation Key. “Then I didn’t know what to do with the tree, so I started working with it. It really was all by chance.

Tree Stump Art is located on Plantation Key.

“I started carving wood, mostly local fish. That’s what the visitors usually look for. They like to take home something that represents what they did here in the Keys.”

That was three years ago, and hundreds of wooden sculptures of large and small fish, birds and animals made from native woods that otherwise would have been mulched “or thrown away.”

He honed his skills on trips to California for seminars on “basically learning how to use a chainsaw to carve artistically.”

Perez previously built a 26-year career as a computer engineer for international companies.

When an innovation center where he was working in Broward County closed, Perez said, “I had to decide what to do with the rest of my life. I decided to do what I like and this is what I like. I value the freedom.”

Perez favors working with local woods like mahogany and wild tamarind, a species largely confined to the Upper Keys and remote spots in Collier and Miami-Dade counties.

“Jamaican dogwood probably might be my favorite,” he said. “It’s a very nice piece of wood. We do have pines like Norfolk and Australian, but Australian is a hard wood to cut.”

Perez has even experimented with using leftover pressure-treated wood from dock projects.

“It’s a way to recycle and recycling is always good,” he said.

He also has discovered a market for home furnishings.

“Lately there’s been a lot of demand from local homeowners for custom items like frames, tables, shelves and vanity tops,” Perez said. “It’s been pretty busy.”

Tree Stump Art has flexible hours but Perez generally is at his table from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, call or text 561-609-8405.