TREE SAFARI: THE KOA CONNECTION

Directed, Written and Producer Todd Jarrell and Presented by WCTE.
Distributed Nationally by American Public Television.

In search of exotic woods, world-class sculptor Brad Sells meets curators, carvers, cattlemen and conservationists, traveling Hawaii’s volcanic heights to the bright lights of a top New York art show to learn the traditions and culture of lustrous koa wood.

A mélange of art and eco-travel, TREE SAFARI: The Koa Connection, traces the arc of acclaimed sculptor Brad Sells’ artistic process while exploring the history, science, and traditional culture of the curious characters he meets along the way.

Filmed in Tennessee, Hawaii and New York City the half-hour program follows Brad Sells from his studio in Cookeville, TN, to the forested volcanic slopes of Hawaii in a quest for koa wood, revered for its density, tone and color.

On the Big Island the team travels with Hawaiian Homelands Ranger Mike Robinson to the 33,000-acre Humuula Forest reserve on the high slopes of Mauna Kea volcano. Once, “cattle was king” in these steep, dry mountains and the livestock decimated the koa forests. But on master furniture maker Tai Lake’s 100-acre forest reserve, we find a conservation plan that allows cattle and koa to co-exist—a plan worth millions of dollars to craftsmen and cattlemen alike.

On the Kona Coast, Sells and assistant Steven Flatt meet Keoki Carter. He shares with us microscopic images of native woods, and addresses the difficulty of aging trees in a region without well-defined seasons.

Big Island conservationists from the famed Kamehameha School take the team to the islands’ most pristine forest reserve, granted to the people of Hawaii by the last descendent of the Hawaiian monarchy. At the Bishop Museum’s in historic Honolulu, we meet Irving Jenkins, curator of the of Hawaii’s royal dynasty calabash collection and Sol Apio who is trying to discover the lost secrets of carving these beautiful bowls.

In the traditional seaside refuge of Pu’uhonua o Honaunau we meet Tava Taupu, a celebrated “long voyager” who introduces us to the “burn and carve” art of the koa dugout canoe. On the last day of the journey the team salvages a massive piece of rwood from an historic but fallen monkeypod tree, the largest known tree of its kind in Hawaii.

With a heavy collection of fine woods, Sells and Flatt return to Bark Studios and complete the artistic process, from pneumatic chainsaws and heavy grinders to hand rubbed the finishes. Sells discusses his connection to the wood, how the swirl of the grain and health of the wood affects his process, and what the Hawaiian experience brings to his work.

Months of work complete, Sells premiers his Hawaiian collection at the famed Architectural Digest Home Design Show in New York City. There, amidst top international artists and a beautiful montage of striking masterpieces hear from organizers of the event, from renowned designer Wendell Castle, and from event attendees trying to figure the process by which these remarkable sculptures are created.

The ARTIST
Raised in Upper Cumberland Mountains of Middle Tennessee, Brad Sells graduated Tennessee Technological University in 1994 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology and minors in Geology and Biology. During this period he began his formal training in art at the renowned Appalachian Center for Crafts near Smithville, TN.

Opening Bark Studios in Cookeville, Tennessee in 1995, Sells soon developed his unique style, taking inspiration from the forests and his hardwood medium. Sells’ works wholly transcend “wood craft” and are included in such respected permanent collections as Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, the Neiman Marcus Home Collection, the Tennessee State Museum, and many more.

Sells supple and flowing works now command prices in the high-five figures with past works steadily gaining in “collectability” and value, collected by such notables as Julio Iglesias, Bob Bohlen and Scotty Mayfield. Increasing numbers of art book authors, gallery owners, arts critics and collectors place Sells as a top artist in a fast-evolving field, one of a few select artists cresting the wave of popularity for fine wood sculpted art.

The PRODUCER
Passion for world culture has led Jarrell to 50+ countries across the seven continents and 70,000 miles of tall ship voyaging (at 5 mph). He has written and produced for PBS, American Public Television (APT), NPR’s All Things Considered; Weekend America; The World; BBC Radio; National Geographic News; CNN.com; Canada’s CBC Radio One; Radio Netherlands World Service; and various international magazine & newsprint outlets.

Jarrell’s work has earned two regional EMMYS, two National EMMY Nominations &, the EMMY/Tennessee Film Commission Rising Star Award, the Edward R. Murrow, the Nancy Dickerson Whitehead Award, the CINE Golden Eagle (2), a Nat’l Educational Television Assoc. NETA Award, the Communicators’ Award (3), the PASS Award, the Tellys (4), the Auroras Award (2), Tennessee Associated Press Awards (2), Public Radio News Directors Inc. PRNDI Awards (3), a Lowell Thomas Award, and a Tennessee Senatorial Resolution of Honor for his body of work in educational/public television.

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