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A giant tree of teeth outdoor art installation brings holiday joy to the community

Lisa Barry
89.1 WEMU

A 13-foot lighted candy cane, Rudolph, and his eight "Volkswagen" reindeer will surround a 16-foot tree made of giant plastic teeth in downtown Northville to help people get in the holiday spirit as the pandemic continues for a second Christmas in a row.

WEMU's Lisa Barry talks to Dr. Bill Demray of Preservation Dental about his latest idea to connect to the community with a larger than life outdoor art installation.


Lisa Barry: As a number of events and activities are planned for the coming weeks to help us get in the mood to celebrate the holidays, a local dentist and community leader has something big and new in the works that we can really sink our teeth into. This is Lisa Barry, and I'll do my best to try and avoid the dental puns as we talked with Northville dentist and founder of Preservation Dental, Dr. Bill Demray. Thanks for talking to us. 

Dr. Bill Demray: Hi, Lisa. 

Lisa Barry: You may have heard of him for his many community efforts and his binky tree and photography, his vintage Volkswagen collection. But he's here today to talk about his big tree of teeth. So, where do we begin with that one? 

A giant tree of teeth outdoor art installation brings holiday joy to the community

Dr. Bill Demray: So, we have a 16-foot high tree outside the dental office, and it's made up of teeth. Now, I should say it's made up of plastic teeth that are about eight inches in size, and they weigh about eight ounces a piece, and there's 1,111 teeth on that tree. People often say, why 1,111? Well, it's considered to be a number of enlightenment, so we just sort of chose that. 

Lisa Barry: Yes, I guess we should start with where are you located? 

Dr. Bill Demray: We're located in downtown Northville, on the corner of Griswold Street and East Main. 

Lisa Barry: And where do these giant plastic teeth come from? 

Credit Ellen Webner / Preservation Dental
Preservation Dental
Tree of Teeth

Dr. Bill Demray: They came from a blow-molding manufacturer in Coloma, Michigan. The name of the company is S-P-I, and they were so very kind to take on this project. It was a small project for them. They do large-scale, blow-molding for companies like John Deere and things like that. So, we came up with when we need these teeth, you see, and we want them to have three roots and look like molars, and we got into it a little bit with it, et cetera, et cetera. And it was all about cost benefit discussions, but we came up with this sort of a cartoon-like tooth. It's sort of real. Sort of cartoon like. But it's recognizable as a tooth--as a molar. 

Lisa Barry: And what were they originally used for? 

Dr. Bill Demray: Well, probably a more unusual project than this Christmas tree. It was for a project that we had where we had three tooth falls, teeth pouring out of the upper windows of our dental office on the second floor onto the parking lot. And this was five years ago. The impetus behind that came from a photograph in Prohibition-era Detroit, where the federal government discovered barrels of whiskey in this warehouse, and they were dumping them out of the second-story windows of this warehouse. So, there's a photograph from the day--black and white photograph--of the whiskey pouring out in waterfalls out of this building. So, I kind of looked at that and said..I guess it's because I'm a dentist. I thought, "Gee, we could do that with teeth." And the why was we had an art week in Northville. And that was our contribution with a large-scale outside art installation, which I'm a big fan of big-scale, outdoor art installations, no matter how kitschy they are. And some of my favorites are the street light display in front of the Los Angeles County Museum of Modern Art, for instance. I always liked that Marilyn Monroe that toured the country-- 

Lisa Barry: Right.

Dr. Bill Demray: Stepping on the grate with the wind blowing up her skirt. Crazy things on one hand, but they just, I'm a sucker for them. That's all I can say. So, he did this installation with teeth pouring out the windows, and then my office manager Denise Jenkins said, "You know, you have to have a purpose for this if people are going to think strange things." So she came up with, it's going to have something to do with, let's see, the Tooth Fairy is moving out of her existing quarters, but in the meantime, her warehouse isn't finished. So, we brought all her teeth to the office and we filled the entire building up to the top with teeth. The windows broke out on the second story, and the teeth poured out. So that gave us sort of a legitimate reason, if that sounds legitimate. And then we took it one step further and said, "OK, what we're going to do with the teeth?" The extra teeth that we had, because we made 4000. We usethree thousand three hundred and thirty three for 1,111 for each tooth fall. And with the extra ones, we started an art competition, and people made very creative things out of these teeth. And the prize winners, at the end, were a couple that made the big bad wolf and his wife. But there are a lot of very fancy teeth that we have. We have one tooth that's been signed by all the characters in the Disney parades in Orlando, and a lot of things happened with the teeth. But there was some money involved in this, prize money and some extra money, and we donated 6,000 dollars to the University Detroit School of Dentistry mobile dental clinic. So, we just had a lot of fun with it, and then those teeth got parked for five years and people kept asking, "What about the teeth? Where are they? Did you dispose of them to keep them?" And we said, "Well, of course we kept them." Because we made them of a non-yellowing plastic, so they were still bright white. And what are we going to do with them? And I said, "Denise, let's make a Christmas tree out of it." And so, there you have it. 

Lisa Barry: When was the first year this giant Christmas tree made out of plastic teeth was on display in Northville?

Dr. Bill Demray: It was last year, and the reason we did it last year is because there was no holiday parade because of COVID. 

Lisa Barry: Yeah.

Dr. Bill Demray: And we felt that people in the middle of this pandemic were cooped up in their houses, and they needed something. They needed some cheer. They needed some holiday. They needed something they could go to that was outside, something they could social distance, and be safe and enjoy. So, we did this last year kind of quickly. We did have some entertainment, and it turned out really, really well. And this year, we decided, in typical fashion round here, that we always up the bar. And we decided to add 96 strobe lights to it, which created the I.T. and the electronic portion of this. I looked inside the tree yesterday, and there's all these circuit boards and all that stuff. I'm like, "Wow. I don't know if we should have done this, but this is a little over the top." But it's pretty spectacular. We're upping the bar this year, so we've got more entertainment and more lights. We're going to combine our holiday parade cars, which are Rudolph and his eight reindeer. They're going to be on display going through their light program. We have a 13-foot candy cane that also has a computerized program on it, so we can have lights all around you, music, a hot dog stand, hot cider, hot chocolate, Santa Claus. Mayor Brian Turnbull is going to help us light the tree as well. 

Credit Ellen Webner / Preservation Dental
Preservation Dental
NEW 13 Foot candy cane with computerized lights, music for one of the VW convertible bugs- which is new this year for After Glow.


Lisa Barry: That's all happening Friday night. 

Dr. Bill Demray: It's all happening Friday night. Yeah. November 19th. 

Lisa Barry: And when you say your dentist office, Preservation Dental is really located in a historic home in downtown Northville. On the corner, right? 

Dr. Bill Demray: Yes, it's in a building that was created in 1878. It was built for the daughter of the man that owned the lumber sawmill across the street. The Rouge River was the portal for logs that were cut, floated down the river to a pond, a mill pond here in Northville, and they used to saw the logs there. And then, in the early 1800s, Henry Ford bought that and made one of the three village factories that were powered by water wheels. His idea, you might recall, is to take the factories to the country. So farmers in this area who had not much to do in the three months of winter with good labor that he could use and rather than have to travel all the way to Detroit. They went to work near their homes, and they were powered by water wheels. And that water is still functioning today, thanks to Rick Cox that owns the building now. 

Lisa Barry: So, Friday night, you're going to officially light this tree of teeth. They're going to have hot dogs, cider, and the mayor. But moving forward throughout the upcoming holiday season, it's going to be sort of like a destination people can drive by and see it. 

Dr. Bill Demray: Yes, we're planning on from December 12th through Christmas, the 12 days of Christmas, and then through January 6th--the epiphany. We're planning on running a five-minute version of this automatically at seven p.m. and nine p.m., so they can see and hear the basis of the light show on the tree itself. Of course, that program won't be that we're having Friday night won't be there all the time, but the tree will be lit. And there is one other, sort of, I won't say, unique because it might be expected. What's going to be on top of the tree is a tooth fairy, a three-and-a-half foot high tooth fairy, in the most gorgeous dress made by Miss Charlotte. It's just fantastic, and she's beautiful.

Lisa Barry: Inflatable? Or what is she made of?

Dr. Bill Demray: Oh, no, no, she's not inflatable. 

Lisa Barry: Oh, she's not. 

Credit Ellen Webner / Preservation Dental
Preservation Dental
Dr. Bill Demray and his Tooth Fairy tree topper.

Dr. Bill Demray: She is so precious, and she is made of materials, and the dress is made of materials. It holds up quite well in the elements and the weather. She does quite well up there. She's absolutely beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. No, she's not inflatable. She's quite awesome. 

Lisa Barry: Yeah. Well, we will have photos of your Volkswagen collection, I guess dressed as reindeer this year and the huge tree of teeth, and maybe a video from last year, although again, you've upped your game this year, so it'll be bigger and better. And we appreciate all that you do for the community. 

Dr. Bill Demray: Well, you're very welcome. And so is our community. We have a great community here, and, you know, we try to pay it forward every single day. 

Lisa Barry: Right. Dr. Bill Demray of Preservation Dental in Northville. Thanks so much for this, and we look forward to checking it out in person. 

Dr. Bill Demray: Thank you, Lisa. 

Credit Preservation Dental
Preservation Dental holiday postcard


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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
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