NEW TAMPA — Plant City resident Robert G. Woods enjoys just about anything involving his craft or kids.
So it came as no surprise to his wife, Zuesette, and other family members and friends, when Woods, a metal sculptor by trade, opted in 2005 to create a Key Tree with the help of some 60 sixth-graders at Tampa Palms Elementary School.
The students were first tasked with collecting hundreds of unused keys. In turn, with Woods’ help, they painted each one in either gold or silver and attached them all with gauge wire to appear as leaves on his 12-foot-high hand-sculpted steel tree.
With that, the “Key Tree” was born.
“I think the keys represent a look into the children’s future,” said the 53-year-old grandfather.
In 2006, at the request of the Arts Council of Hills- borough County, Woods donated the sculpture to the county and it soon graced the grounds of the Bank of Tampa in New Tampa.
The tree was moved in 2013 to the rear patio of New Tampa Regional Library for patrons to enjoy either while outdoors or by looking out through the library’s glass windows.
“A library lady said she has seen birds trying to latch on it,” Woods’ wife said.
That library lady is Elisa Carlson, senior librarian of youth services at the New Tampa library.
“We’ve had nothing but positive comments about the tree,” she said. “It’s a wonderful piece of art.”
To stir up a little fun and test the mathematical skills of library goers as well as bring attention to the sculpture, Woods devised a tree key-counting contest overseen by the library’s teen advisory board on a recent Saturday morning.
By secret ballot, participants of all ages were invited to cast their votes.
The person who came closest to guessing the total number of keys on the tree would receive a $50 gift card, compliments of Woods, who explained that each of the tree’s 14 branches also has about eight offshoots he created from rebar steel.
“There are keys on every branch, so that adds up to a fairly large amount of keys on the tree,” he said.
From a pool of 26 entrants in the contest, 4-year-old Oren Parnes, son of Alexandra and Dror Parnes, of New Tampa, came the closest to the actual count of 1,892 keys with his guess of 1,440.
His dad, a former USF faculty member and now a professor of finance at the University of Central Florida, readily confessed it was he who came up with the number submitted in his son’s name.
No matter; Woods presented young Oren with his gift.
“I’m proud of his analytical skills. It must run in the family,” quipped Oren’s dad.
And judging by the smile on Woods’ face, he was perfectly fine with making the contest a family affair.
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.