23 Nov 2017

Meet Julian Barnard – Hull’s tree-carving sculptor

We met the man with the chainsaw

Whilst we’ve been busy celebrating Hull’s year in the spotlight, retired teacher Julian Barnard has been beavering away in Pearson Park, creating a beautiful new tree sculpture. Armed with his chainsaw and hand tools, Julian has created a gigantic sculpture, titled Whispering Sweet Nothings.

Julian has completed the carving, which is on show right now in Pearson Park. We spoke to Julian to find out how he got into carving trees, and how he weaves local references into his work.


When did you first start carving? 

I used to carve as a kid. My dad was practical. Later on in life, I went on to study a degree in sculpture at college.  

Then of course reality imposes and I decided to become a teacher, so I spent my career teaching in various schools and colleges in art and technology. Eventually, I retired and wanted something new to do – right at the other end of Pearson Park, there was a conker tree that was dying, so I felt there was a challenge there. That’s when I started off carving the first tree here.

What was the meaning behind the first tree you carved in Pearson Park? 

It was originally going to be just a standing figure, but because I carved it during the referendum, I ended up being inspired to make it a political piece.  

I carved three heads in total. Each has eyes, although none of them have ears, not unlike some of our politicians… the tree is also carved holding an ice-cream, which is a token to Mrs Penna’s ice-cream parlour in the park. 

The other arm you can’t see. It goes behind the back and references grabbing something and putting it in your back pocket. People make assertions and don’t have to do anything to prove it.

© Tom Arran


What kind of tree was your second work Whispering Sweet Nothings carved from?

It’s a 6m high Wych Elm. I imagine it was planted around 150 years ago and one of the first trees planted here when the park was opened. 

When did you begin working on this carving and where did you gather the ideas?

I started work on this one in around June this year. 

To start with I carved a head on the one side, then started work on the second head which looked South. I realised they could be seen looking at the other, which is how I ended up with the title Whispering Sweet Nothings.

The trustees of Pearson Park who allowed me to redesign the tree mentioned they liked the idea of something poetic with it being opposite Larkin’s old house – so I had the idea of carving a toad for part of it too. I also put in a hand holding a book which ties in with the literary connection. 

There’s also a witch on there – obviously because it’s a Wych Elm! 

This tree is a lot more complicated that the other tree, although I think this is better. I like the political aspect about the other one though. 

Can you talk me through the other Hull references and ideas there too? 

I’ve carved a moth which is a reference to Amy Johnson, there’s also a lion holding a fish which is a reference to Hull’s heritage.

As you get further down the tree it becomes quite child friendly, there’s a potato head and a little door. Continuing this, there’s also a dog who’s stolen a bunch of sausages, an alien and a hippo.


Whispering Sweet Nothings © Tom Arran


How have people responded to the piece?

I’ve had hundreds of visitors to the tree. They’re all so positive and interested in the work!

What has your highlight of 2017 been so far? 

For most of it, I’ve been creating this piece! There’s been some pretty amazing things this year. The bonfire on Longhill as part of Land of Green Ginger was superb because of the inclusion.  

Depart in the cemetery was great too. We managed to catch it on the night when it wasn’t raining. 


Whispering Sweet Nothings © Tom Arran

Julian would like to thank the generosity of Tilsons scaffolding – who provided it free of charge.


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