Natural Lands Trust is restoring the iconic wooden rabbits that watch over County Line Road from their perch at the edge of Stoneleigh. These charming carvings were created by local chainsaw artist Marty Long in 2002. Long was commissioned by John and Chara Haas, the former estate owners, to depict the Haas family as hares (Haas means “hare” in German) for this playful sculpture, which includes two large rabbits—mom and dad—and five baby bunnies representing the five Haas children.
Over the years, the rabbits have become a beloved landmark in the community, often being dressed up for holidays, graduations, and sporting events. But exposure to the elements over the years has taken its toll and now the wooden sculpture is crumbling. Natural Lands Trust acquired Stoneleigh in Villanova in April, 2016, through a generous donation from the Haas family. As a part of the extensive preparations for Stoneleigh to become a public garden, Natural Lands Trust prioritized refreshing the rabbit sculpture.
“Stoneleigh is a pretty spectacular place,” said Molly Morrison, president of Natural Lands Trust. “But the thing I’m most often asked about since we acquired the property is the rabbit sculpture. Everyone loves it! We knew we needed to give the bunnies the rehab they deserved after more than a decade watching over the grounds.”
Stoneleigh includes stately trees, winding pathways, and lush gardens that the Haas family carefully stewarded over the decades. In the past, Chara and John Haas hosted friends and family for the annual Stoneleigh Stroll-About, where visitors could spot many rabbit references all over the gardens. Dennis Canakis, a longtime caretaker at Stoneleigh and currently the Property Manager at the garden, recalled the local relationship to the sculpture. “People know it’s just part of the community and adore it,” he said. “It was definitely a big attraction here. During the Stoneleigh Stroll-About people would always head toward the bunny sculpture.” When John and Chara Haas passed away in 2001 and 2012, respectively, the rabbits wore angel wings; some members of the community left flowers at the base of the sculpture.
Fortunately, artist Marty Long was available to carve a replica sculpture so the rabbits can continue to be the face of Stoneleigh. The process is expected to take up to a month.
Steve Shreiner of Shreiner Tree Care donated the white oak stump that will serve as the base of the new sculpture, as well as the services to transport and place it at Stoneleigh. This is a huge donation—literally—as the trunk weighs about 22,000 pounds. With this donation and the commitment of the original artist to this project, the rabbits will be rejuvenated and ready for their new life looking over Stoneleigh as it welcomes visitors once again.
Stoneleigh: A Natural Garden, will open to the public in the spring of 2018.