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Humans of the U: Scott Leech

When a tree falls on campus, Scott Leech turns it into something beautiful.

"I was born and raised in South Salt Lake and attended Granite High School, which had woodworking classes and a construction vocational program. That’s where I discovered my enjoyment of working with wood.

My woodworking career began in high school when I helped build a house and then after high school, I went to work for a commercial construction company learning the skills of the trade—ultimately becoming a construction superintendent. In 1991, I joined the university where I used my skills as a carpenter and cabinetmaker, building various custom items such as desks, cabinets and podiums. Occasionally, I still see one of the podiums I helped build being used by university presidents, senators and other prominent leaders. I later moved into a construction manager position overseeing remodeling projects and working with the President’s office on maintenance projects at the U’s Eccles and Rosenblatt houses. I retired in 2019 after 28 years at the U.

I started Utah Bowls in 2015, where I create bowls, platters, peppermills, spinning tops, pens, boxes with lids, hollow vessels and more. I also craft tables, benches and bookcases. I have a specific passion to recover trees that have died, suffered storm damage or are being removed to make way for a new building or infrastructure project at the university.

The trees at the university hold special meaning for many faculty, staff and students. We recall significant events that happened at the university, often with a tree playing a memorable photo backdrop role. The university’s trees provide a sense of time and place through recognition of changing seasons—a sense of refresh and optimism as trees bud and blossom in the spring, assurance of growth and commitment as they create a canopy of summer shade and transition and stability with vibrant colors of fall foliage.

The upcycling of the tree into a new beautiful object is invigorating, knowing that the wood isn’t going to the landfill. When I craft an item using wood from the U campus, I enjoy sharing the history of the tree and its connection to the university.

Some of the interesting pieces I have made from trees at the U include bookcases from a Sequoia Redwood that was planted by Walter Cottam, a famed U biologist, along with being honored to make a natural edge bowl from a Golden Raintree that former President Dave Pershing took to South Korea as a gift.

The September 2020 windstorm downed several trees across campus. I am now processing some wood recovered from a Sycamore near the bookstore, a Kentucky Coffeetree in Presidents Circle and a Velvet Ash in Cottam’s Gulch.

This is not a money-making endeavor, but I enjoy creating things and sometimes make a little sandpaper money. I am usually in the shop by 6 a.m. and cannot wait to try making something new or improving upon what I have made previously."

— Scott Leech

For more information on trees at the University of Utah, check out the University of Utah Tree Tour.