Outdoors Column for 2/27/00
"CHAINSAWS TAKE ON DIFFERENT USES IN THE HANDS
OF AN ARTIST"
By Will Elliott
They're coming out of the woodwork.
Chainsaw artists are everywhere and wildlife figures dominate themes.
The proof could be seen at Ridgway (cq), Pennsylvania on February 12
when 30 carvers gathered for a Mid Winter Chainsaw Carving Rendezvous.
Randy Boni, its coordinator, with just a month of planning, made
contacts mainly through email and the Internet. Boni's efforts drew
Holger Baer from Heidelberg, Germany, Dennis Heath from Herfordshire,
England, five carvers from New York State, 13 >from Pennsylvania, two
each from Maryland and Ohio and one each from Florida, New Jersey,
Delaware, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and the Province of Ontario.
The rendezvous featured a day of carving competition at Sandy Beach
Park in Ridgway viewed by more than 500 spectators as the day progressed.
Each artist worked on one project. At the end of the day, prizes were
given to the top five carvers and all the carvings were sold at auction.
The auction collected just under $8,000. All proceeds were donated
equally to the YMCA and the Make a Wish Foundation.
Michael Blaine (cq) of Winchester, New Hampshire, a national champion,
took first place with a stalking mountain lion carving.
Second place went to Western New York carver Rick Pratt, who did a
soaring eagle. Pratt 37, a wiry and powerful 5-foot, 6-inch carver from
Corfu, lives on and around trees and woodcarving. Pratt worked as a
climber with Bob's Tree Service in Batavia for seven years. Since 1995,
the first year of operations, he has volunteered to install camera
equipment used to televise hatchlings in the eagles nest which can be
viewed each spring at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge Visitor's
Center on Casey Road in Alabama.
Pratt took his business name, Eagle's Nest, from that activity, but
his carvings over the past eight years have been diverse - and numerous
- wildlife and people carvings. ""I've done more than 1,000
eagles and bears, 200 owls and pelicans, and many squirrels, raccoons,
beavers, wolves, mountain lions, buffaloes, herons, songbirds, fish and
other creatures through the years,'' he said.
This is not a hobby for the weak of wrist or fist. Yet the final
touches made to a carving require the slightest of hand to attain those
realistic details of a finished figure. ""You have to be in
control at every touch of the saw in the grain of the wood as you block,
shape and finish each detail of the piece,'' Pratt said. ""I
go from my gut rather than use stencils or templates.''
Size does not matter to Pratt. Most familiar of his larger works is
his 12-foot tall grizzly bear on display at Six Flags Darien Lake. He is
currently working on a life-sized bison which he plans to donate in
support of the Buffalo Zoo.
Donations and public spirited events play an important part in the
lives of many of these carvers. Shelly Upole (cq) of Oakland Md., the
only female carver at the Ridgway Rendezvous, said, ""I like
doing things that benefit others and serve God.'' Upole, deeply
religious and an experienced taxidermist and wood painter, has only been
chainsaw carving for just over a year. Her figure of an Indian wearing a
bear skin robe finished in the top third of the competition.
Dennis Heath, like Rick Pratt, began working with trees as a British
forester. His nature and wildlife carvings, including studies of hounds,
interested not only his neighbors in Stevenage but also admirers across
England, Europe and - after his trip to Rigdway - fellow carvers in the
Holger Baer, 38, is unique among carvers in Germany. The lean, lanky
tree carver, with long, black hair tied back in a pigtail, noted,
""Most woodcarvers in Germany do religious figures.'' Baer has
gained an international reputation as a totem carver, the only one in
Germany. He has made successive trips across the US, studying the
designs and symbolism of totem figures. He has previously worked mainly
with chisels and grinders, but his trip to Pennsylvania interested him
in chainsaw carving.
Pratt and his wife, Judy, travel to many carvers' gatherings, but the
Ridgway event was special for them. Rick gave Judy his second-place
prize, a woodcarving model of Echo chainsaw. She used it to carve a
small bear figure, her first attempt at modeling a full-standing figure.
To find out more about this emerging outdoors art form, check with
Pratt at 599-3043 or visit his website: www.chainsawartist.com.