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Chain saw artist mixes business with pleasure

Posted: Thursday, August 23, 2001

Wood carver Scott Hanson puts his heart -- and home -- into his work.

Hanson is responsible for the 15- and 20-foot-tall wooden carvings drivers can see on the Sterling Highway just north of Soldotna. He does all of the work himself, and nearly all of it is done with a chain saw.

"Each one's different," he said of his creations.

Hanson grew up on a family farm near Madison, Wis. He had seen chain saw carvings while traveling and wanted one for his home.

Ten years ago, he decided to try carving one himself. Using two dead trees in front of his home, Hanson carved a man and a woman.

"It was nothing fantastic, but I was happy with it," he said.

Friends began asking for carvings for Christmas gifts and anniversaries. His hometown hired him to carve a fish figure for the town's center.

 

Hanson takes a ride on his giant salmon sculpture.

Photo by JAY BARRET

When Hanson had the opportunity to visit his sister in Alaska, he was interested to see what kinds of carvings he would find. He was surprised to see there weren't many, he said.

He moved to the Kenai Peninsula in 1997, and in the time since then, he has been able to devote himself to his carving full time.

He sells his smaller creations, which begin at about 2-feet tall, from inside the one-room cabin that serves as both business and home. Usually he limits selling them to during the summer.

During the winter, Hanson tries to build his inventory. He makes approximately 120 carvings during the season, and they are all gone by early June, he said.

This year, he is not certain he will be able to do it. He has received a record number of orders for his work, and has 70 orders to catch up on.

It is particularly hard for Hanson to part with his larger pieces.

"I guess my bigger pieces are really, I get partial to them. ... You put so much of yourself into them," he said.

The larger creations also are difficult to transport. For customers who wish to order a large carving, it is easier to carve it on location, Hanson said.

 

This bear does not want to be disturbed.

Photo by JAY BARRET

Large or small, he strives to create pieces that are pleasing and unique.

"I'm the hardest critic. Sometimes I end up making three of them, trying to get it (right)," said Hanson.

Visitors to his business can see the difference in each work, and they are willing to pay the price for an original. Smaller items begin at about $250 each. The largest pieces can cost $10,000.

Hanson has sold virtually everything he has in stock.

He uses beetle-kill trees for his canvas. For the large figures, he recently bought 50 logs that had originated several seasons ago at Montague Island.

Nearly all of the work is done with a chain saw. For certain details, Hanson occasionally uses a grinder or a dremel tool.

He makes the wood darker by using a wood burner. Other colors are spray painted on.

After coloring, each piece is sanded and coated with polyurethane to make it weather-resistant. Size and individual tastes are the only factors in determining whether a carving should be displayed indoors or out.

Hanson ultimately would like to build his own inventory enough to start a novelty tourist attraction. People could take pictures with the carvings, he said.

Many already do. Area residents take pictures of their kids astride a large, saddled salmon, and others stand encircled by the front paws of a large bear whose base has the words "Hold Me," Hanson said.

 

The front of Hanson's store and home on the Sterling Highway is decorated with many of his pieces of art.

Photo by JAY BARRET

Tourists from both in and out of state also stop by to examine his work and take home pictures of the "Alaska carvings."

In the meantime, Hanson remembers to make time for the reasons he came to Alaska in the first place.

"I love hunting and fishing. ... It's in my work schedule once a week," he said.

"Summers are so short here, you've got to really enjoy them."

Hanson appears comfortable working independently. He spends much of his time outdoors, carving under a shelter. In the winter, he continues to work in the fresh air.

Despite the cold, his focus stays on doing better with each carving.

"You're always pushing to improve," he said.

He faces challenges head-on, as well. Chain saw carving in Alaska is a big stretch from growing corn and soy beans like he did in Minnesota, but Hanson is not afraid of trying something new.

"The worst thing you can do is fail," he said.



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