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The landscaper suspected that the big tree in Barbara M. Stanczak's back yard was filled with rot and had to come down. But after the trunk lay in pieces all over the ground, he told the Seven Hills artist that it probably would have lived another 50 years.

"I was heartbroken. I had to have something of that tree to hold on to," recalls Stanczak. So she fashioned her first sculpture from part of it.

Ωlthough that piece created two decades ago was born from tragedy, she says it was really a natural progression from her career as a painter to a sculptor. Over the years, Stanczak's paintings included more and more texture, became relief works and then "liberated themselves totally" from the paper.

Stanczak, who has taught foundation and design at the Cleveland Institute of Art for 30 years, treats her wood and stone sculptures reverently. Her hands caress the smooth, cool curve of alabaster and her voice sings the praises of igneous rock formed by fire and heat.

"You can't help but look at a stone and not think of what it took to make it millions of years ago," she says.

Natural materials such as stone force an artist to give and take, Stanczak explains. For example, in "Prickly Embrace" Stanczak "overpowered" one stone with a large vein in its middle by artistically arranging porcupine quills along the vertical line.

On weekends, Stanczak walks about three miles along the Chagrin River, near Brandywine Falls, visiting a different park or wooded area each time. She also rides her horse, Rocky, for a perspective on the natural world one doesn't get on foot.

One of Stanczak's latest pieces, "Ballerina," is made from a U-shaped tree limb cut down by a neighbor. She threaded the limb through four petal-shaped rings of cypress wood, using a fifth for a base, to create a graceful interpretation.

"My sculpture — it's a romantic relationship," she says.

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