March 18, 2010

market

DEIRDRE FLEMING

— By

20071204_ChainSaw
click image to enlarge

20071204_ChainSaw

Gordon Chibroski

20071204_ChainSaw
click image to enlarge

20071204_ChainSaw

Gordon Chibroski

Additional Photos Below

Staff Writer

CHINA — Rod Carlson needs just minutes to get a block of white pine looking like Yogi Bear's face.

Some say what Carlson does with a log and a chain saw is not art.

But to those critics, Carlson, a chain saw artist of 16 years, says his work is an expression of the forestland and the creatures found there.

He describes his work as a partnership between man and the medium.

''Wood carving is a real art. Some don't consider this a real art because it's very, very fast. It's been a feud for many years,'' Carlson said. ''When I started there were six or eight in all New England. Now there are literally hundreds. But everyone has their own style. Mine is the bears' big round butts. There is no such thing as a skinny bear. Mine are nice and fat and happy.''

Thirty years ago, when Rodney Richard started carving woodland creatures to amuse a bunch of Boy Scouts, the logger from Rangeley considered his chain saw-made wooden statues an extension of his hobby.

Richard loved whittling. At 78, he still does.

However, Rangeley's ''Mad Whittler,'' as Richard is known, said anyone who does not consider chain saw-sculpted statues art is full of, well, sawdust.

''It's art. I'm considered a master artist with a chain saw by the Maine Arts Commission,'' said Richard, who was awarded a grant and dubbed a ''traditional arts master'' by the commission in 1990.

At 51, Carlson said he could make more money doing something else, but he doesn't consider his chain saw-sculpted bears the fruit of labor.

He said they are his inspiration.

Carlson began carving bears with a friend on Route 16 in Conway, N.H., back in the 1990s.

They sold so many that Carlson devoted himself full time to the work, giving up a job as a cook.

However, like Richard, Carlson has always whittled in his spare time.

''I've carved wood all my life. It's always been a passion,'' Carlson said. ''I try to keep improving every day.

''I can make a piece of wood into something, but I'd rather have a piece of wood tell me what it wants to be.''

BEARS -- OH MY

Carlson creates his chain saw art behind his house in an open air shed, next to the swamp land that borders China Lake.

He finishes each piece with a blowtorch inside his heated workshop above.

Both workrooms are surrounded by evergreens, and several sentry bears are scattered about his 2 acres.

A 500-pound chain saw-carved bear towers above the walkway to Carlson's house, welcoming all who visit.

At the edge of the driveway, a smaller bear a few feet high watches traffic.

And near his house, a carved tree with several chain saw-carved baby bears scampering up it suggest the spirit of tomfoolery that takes place here.

''I'm sick and twisted,'' Carlson said, showing off his most-loved bear: the one seated outside on an old toilet.

These smaller bears, weighing about 20 pounds, are Carlson's mainstay.

These sell for about $150 to $200, compared to a 300-pound seated bear holding a solar lamp that could sell for as much as $800.

The bears are sold in Waterville, Augusta, Belgrade, and Boothbay Harbor in the Maine Made and More stores (which in Boothbay Harbor is called Maine Made and Moore.)

However, Carlson said these stores ask mostly for the 2-foot-high black bears.

Some of these tiny bears are holding cribbage boards, others balance tabletops like dinner trays, and others stuff their paws into green (wood) trousers.

Carlson has carved other characters: the Seven Dwarfs, a European-style Father Christmas, Bill Clinton.

But his business and passion is fueled by the black bears.

And, at least in Carlson's eyes, each of these tiny bears distinguishes themselves.

EACH ONE AN INDIVIDUAL

Carlson's work begins when Robbins Lumber Co. in Sears-mont drops off white pine logs 30 inches in diameter.

He quarters these with a 3-foot-long chain saw blade in order to get four small bears out of quarter wedges.

With each bear, he carves a face from the center of the wedge.

''Their faces are in the heart of the tree,'' Carlson said. ''Most of all my stuff is from one piece of wood.''

Then he puts a block of wood on his pedestal (which is a larger block of wood), and he lets the pine inspire him.

''I look at it for a minute, then I fire up the chain saw, and see what comes out,'' Carlson said. ''Each one is unique.''

Four of the little ones standing in Carlson's workshop show distinct expressions.

But they all are made in the same way.

He starts narrowing down the head. Then the rough shape of the arms is determined. And then the legs are cut.

Carlson then moves back up the block with his chain saw, shaping the ears, hollowing them out, and cutting the muzzle.

The nose is etched with careful detail to make what will become a black triangle stick out above the muzzle.

The mouth, detailed as it looks, is carved as effortlessly as a pen drawing a smile.

The entire bear is carved from a chain saw, except for the two small black eyes, which Carlson said are ''zipped in'' using a drill.

''One chain saw artist told me it's not chain saw art, because of the eyeballs,'' Carlson said.

But Carlson considers his black bears art.

In his eyes, they look thoughtful, quiet, charismatic ... even caring.

''They have similar qualities, but when you look at each one, they are entirely different with different characters,'' Carlson said. ''I try to give them a little motion: a slight turn of the head, or shoulder. It gives them character, and personality.

''These two look different. But that's because they're friends, not brothers.''

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

dfleming@pressherald.com

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Additional Photos

20071204_ChainSaw
click image to enlarge

20071204_ChainSaw

Gordon Chibroski

20071204_ChainSaw
click image to enlarge

20071204_ChainSaw

Gordon Chibroski

20071204_ChainSaw
click image to enlarge

20071204_ChainSaw

Gordon Chibroski

20071204_ChainSaw
click image to enlarge

20071204_ChainSaw

Gordon Chibroski

20071204_ChainSaw
click image to enlarge

20071204_ChainSaw

Gordon Chibroski

20071204_ChainSaw
click image to enlarge

20071204_ChainSaw

Gordon Chibroski

20071204_ChainSaw
click image to enlarge

20071204_ChainSaw

Gordon Chibroski

20071204_ChainSaw
click image to enlarge

20071204_ChainSaw

Gordon Chibroski

20071204_ChainSaw
click image to enlarge

20071204_ChainSaw

Gordon Chibroski

20071204_ChainSaw
click image to enlarge

20071204_ChainSaw

Gordon Chibroski

  


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