Art found inside trees
A Northwest Rendezvous in Blue River? The three-day McKenzie River Chainsaw Festival certainly fit the bill – filling the air with the sound of racing two stroke saw engines and plenty of chips and sawdust.
For Randy Gauthier of Moberly Lake, British Columbia, it almost didn’t happen. The single parent father is new to the trade. After working for 23 years as a dangerous tree faller he began carving only six months ago, deciding he had to find a better way to spend some time with his son.
His love of chainsaws combined with an inner artistic ability saw the income from his new trade go from zero to $6,000 - a month after he moved his work from the lakeside up to the roadside.
Gauthier said he began searching the Internet to learn more about competing. He applied to 30 events and was accepted by three. The first was for the McKenzie. It was almost his last.
Running on a tight schedule he hired someone else to truck his tools, learning too late that was a sour deal that caused him to abandon everything he needed on the other side of the U.S./Canadian border. Pushing forward he ran into more hang-ups with ticket agents and scheduling.
Having headed out with $2,700 in hand, he had only $500 left when he made it to Blue River. And he had no tools.
“That’s said and done and behind me now,” the carver from the Saulteau Indian Reservation said as he took a break from cutting into a log with some borrowed equipment. “These are some of the best guys in the world. They’re absolutely great,” he added saying, “Everyone is doing anything they can to help me out.”
Despite being left handed and running a right hand powersaw, Gauthier still had to grin. “It’s a little challenging but I’m here to learn.”
By comparison, “Thor” (Bruce Thor) of Kent, Washington, has been carving for 15 years and has adapted to the life style of a “chainsaw gypsy.” He follows the circuit wherever there’s action - from coast to coast, varying his home base from Georgia to the Pacific Northwest.
Besides carving at shows in Japan, Germany and Scotland, he’ll be off to England soon. Asked where people might find him, Thor says, "it’s likely you’ll find me somewhere where someone puts me up.”
After the summer ends he'll settle down for a bit to work on the backload of custom orders pro carvers typically rack up from people who want them to create a special piece.
By comparison, Kevin Strauslin of Eugene is putting down roots. He’s just about ready to open a new gallery in Salem to showcase both his and work by other carvers. His life changed five years ago as the bottom fell out of the drywall trade when the recession hit.
By chance, he happened to make a simple carving his boss saw. Telling Kevin if he didn’t quit to take up this new vocation, his boss had to do the latter - launching a career that now generates $90,000 a year. “I guess I was pretty much a natural,” he said. Not surprisingly, he too was grinning as well.
Randy Gauthier can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. To catch up with Thor, call 253-850-7584. Kevin Strauslin can be reached at 503-463-7008.
Image above: Eugene chainsaw sculptor Kevin Strauslin says he doesn’t start a project with a preconceived image, instead letting the grain of a log determine what the final outcome will be.
McKenzie River Reflections