A cut above: Chain saw carvers let the chips fly

Posted: Monday, July 19, 2010

Wood chips flew like winter snow at about Mile 90 of the Sterling Highway Saturday during the last hours of the masterpiece carving competition at SawFest '10, hosted by the Town of Living Trees.

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Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
The top of Scott Hanson's chain saw creation titled, "Back Up Baby, This Fish Smells Really Rotten," features a carved fisherman and a salmon. The piece won first place at last weekend's SawFest '10, hosted by The Town of Living Trees in Sterling.

The carvers, wielding chain saws like butter knives, deftly sliced through the logs to reveal the art within them.

"It's kind of daunting when you first look at a log," said artist Derrick Stanton, of Nikiski, who took home third place for his brown bear carving named "Back Away Slowly."

But, that intimidation does not top his love for creation.

"Ever since I started chain saw carving I never felt like I was punching a clock," Stanton said. The past two years he received first place at SawFest for his carvings of swimming salmon and a cowboy riding a king.

In the end, Scott Hanson, master carver and owner of the Town of Living Trees received first place this year for his whittled creation of two anglers with a fish on the line scampering up a tree to get away from bears -- like a cautionary tale totem pole. This title of his piece was "Run Baby Run, This Fish Smells Rotten."

The pieces were judged on originality, use of wood, detail, finishing and difficulty.

"We passed it the first day when they were taking the bark off the trees and we wanted to see what they turned into," said Michelle Friend, of Anchor Point.

Her favorite piece was created by Eric Berson of Sterling, who received second place for his masterpiece "The Resting Place," of painted eagles flying above a stream of spawning salmon. Berson also received the people's choice award.

"It's fantastic to see from start to finish the evolution and creativity that comes out of a block of wood," said Ellen Anderson, of Wasilla, who attended SawFest for the first time this year with her husband, the event's photographer.

The festival, in its fourth year, was held last Wednesday through Saturday with the overall masterpiece competition, daily hour-long quick carve contests, vendors, food and entertainment.

Sandy Hanson, owner of the Town of Living Trees with her husband, Scott, said the festival is modeled after the Craft Invitational Chain saw Carving Contest in Seldovia.

"We thought, 'hey, let's have one of our own,'" she said.

During the festival Saturday, there was gold panning and highland game demonstrations by the Alaskan Scottish Club.

"Every year we try to grow it a little bit more," she said. "We're becoming like a little town."

The festival, at the prime of tourist season on the Kenai Peninsula, is becoming a visitors' favorite.

"We're just traveling and took a day off from fishing to watch this a little bit," said Tommy Barnes of Sour Lake, Texas. "They work really fast. They're really talented."

"It's becoming quite popular, you'd be surprised. The visitors all want to take a piece home with them," Hanson said.

The most frequently asked questions at her shop are, she said, "Do you ship? And can you make this?"

And given the talent and creativity of the chainsaw carvers, custom orders must be a piece of cake compared to producing a SawFest masterpiece.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at brielle.schaeffer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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