SURROUNDED by piles of wood shavings and clouds of dust, an African elephant lowers its head and wraps its trunk around a log.

From the ridges on its back to its pointed tusks, it appears to have grown out of the cobblestones in front of the sawmill at Pollok Park.

This life-size recreation in oak has been a labour of love for Glasgow sculptor Robert Coia and is the first link in a chain of 11 works that will help connect Glasgow pupils to the city's parks and the legacy of next year's Commonwealth Games.

"It is a very exciting project," says Robert. "As well as creating the sculptures I've also been working with local schools, doing carving workshops. And their work will be incorporated into the sculpture.

"With the elephant, for example, children from St Monica's school, in Pollok, have been carving stepping stones with pictures of endangered species."

The Park Twinning Initiative links Glasgow's green spaces with different regions and countries of the Commonwealth. As well as an African elephant for Pollok Park, Robert will carve a giant panda for Queen's Park, a snow leopard for Springburn Park and a whooper swan for Hogganfield Loch, as well as a South Seas Tikki sculpture for the Botanic Gardens and a Native American bench for Glasgow Green.

The wood used in the sculptures has all come from wind-blown trees that came down in Glasgow about 18 months ago, and nothing has gone to waste, right down to a perfectly J-shaped branch which was crafted into the elephant's trunk.

"I started the elephant with one of the legs," says Robert. "The front right leg has dictated the whole pose: there was a bend in it and a branch coming out - it just looked like a front leg to me.

"Then I created the other legs, then the body and stood it up. Attaching the neck and the head was quite an achievement.

There must have been a weight problem and it jammed. It wouldn't go in and wouldn't go out. So one of the Pollok team jumped into a tractor and gave it a little dunt. It went in beautifully, but the elephant jumped back about an inch and it looked like it was pushing its head against the tractor. It was quite a sight."

Six weeks in the making, the elephant stands proudly outside the water-driven sawmill at Pollok Park, which is now Robert's base. Next week it will be moved to a site opposite the Burrell Collection.

As he turns to step inside his workshop, Robert's next project is waiting: a four-metre oak tree trunk is lying on its side with the bark stripped off.

When it is finished it will stand vertically, with the leaves and tendrils of five Mackintosh-style roses curling around the wood. Fittingly, it will stand opposite the entrance to the Mackintosh-designed House for an Art Lover in Bellahouston Park.

"I had to do some drawings for this," explains Robert, "but there is a certain amount of leeway when I'm working on the wood because a lot of the time the tree dictates the design.

"There's so much happening in this tree, it has already changed in my mind from the drawing, and when I start carving it will change again."

To begin with, Robert is painstakingly removing the bark by hand with a mallet and a chisel. "When I'm doing that I can sit and look at it and formulate ideas for where it's going."

The 51-year-old admits the work is therapeutic and in many ways it gave him a new lease of life after an accident more than 20 years ago.

"I was shot in the face with a cannon in a battle re-enactment, it was a rather dangerous hobby," he says with a smile that hides the painful recovery that took him first to the Island of Arran, to work with wood carver Marvin Elliott for two years, and back to Glasgow to set up his own business.

Robert spent many of his early years as a sculptor organising arts programmes for schools across Scotland and is delighted to be connecting with local children again ahead of the Commonwealth Games.

It's a great way to get pupils involved and show them how these things are actually constructed," he says.

"We live in such a mass-produced world, I think that's why people have been so fascinated watching the elephant being carved.

"Ideally, I'd love every school involved with the sculptures to come to the park and see the process long before the work is finished. It gives them ownership, it's part of them and they're part of this whole journey."