Sleeping with Van Winkle
Emil Szkipala's chainsaw at work
by Anita LeBlanc
Rip Van Winkle, the lead character in Washington Irving's 1819 short story, is best known for sleeping twenty years. Today, as a more than six-and-a-half-feet-tall wooden effigy with floor-grazing stocking cap and beard, he is diligently hawking mattresses in front of the Fil family's Van Winkle Mattress Company on North Main near Depot Street.
Family patriarch Ken Fil paid chainsaw artist Emil Szkipala $2,500 to create the sculpture for his Brighton store in 2007. "Since the signage laws [in Brighton] are very stringent, we thought that a statue might help lure traffic in off Grand River Avenue," says Fil.
It took about a month for Szkipala--a self-styled "doctor of obs-tree-trix"--to chainsaw the trunk of an elm tree into Van Winkle's likeness. While it didn't necessarily increase sales, Fil says, the sculpture did "create an element of curiosity." So when they cut back operations at the Brighton store, he hired Szkipala to transport the eleven-hundred-pound statue to their Main Street store. (They're currently opening a second Ann Arbor location--see Marketplace Changes)
"We've had people take pictures of him, take pictures of themselves with him, and ask us how to reach the guy who made him," says Fil. When no one's around to answer questions, the curious can get the essentials from Szkipala's nameplate at the statue's base.
[Originally published in March, 2013.]