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Chatham Carver Carves for Children

By Karen Tiede
Posted Wednesday, January 14, 2004

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Chainsaw sculptor and Chatham resident Karen Tiede will be traveling to Ridgway, PA, at the end of February to carve for the Make-A-Wish foundation. She's looking for a repeat of last year's success.

No one was the least surprised to meet a woman who owns 6 chainsaws.

The Ridgway Rendezvous is held in Ridgway, PA, at the end of February (highway 219 in north-central PA). Chainsaw carvers from all over the world attend and spend half a week socializing, watching demos or classes, and carving statues that are auctioned for Make-a-Wish and the Ridgway YMCA on Saturday afternoon. Last year's auction raised $43,700 on the work of 180 carvers.

I can't think of any place I've ever lived that could have hosted a similar event. Ridgway is about the same size as Pittsboro. Many people were housed with townspeople at no charge. My hosts came to the Firehouse Field several times to watch the events and made sure to look for "their" carvers every time. In addition, various organizations from the town provided five free meals for everyone, and we had coupons for more food from many of the downtown restaurants. I only spent money on a new carving bar (8”; it’s so cute I want to put it on a chain and wear it as a necklace), safety glasses, log marking pens in colors I've never seen before, and nine rolls of film.

No one was the least surprised to meet a woman who owns six chainsaws. My own prejudices jumped at me when I was surprised to notice that, of the 13 Japanese carvers, three were women. For the record, the field is about 10% female. It was relaxing to NOT have to face anyone’s surprise that I carve with chainsaws! At Ridgway, men understood my frustration at not being able to run the larger saws. (For the record, I run a Stihl 026 as my basic saw. My dealer would not sell me an 036 for carving because it was clear to both of us I couldn’t handle it safely unless I was doing a crosscut with gravity on my side.)

Beards, big bushy grizzled and long, were everywhere. If America starts to look like a chainsaw carvers’ convention, short Gillette. It was cold; all the northerners wore Carhartts. Carvers from the south shivered. I took daffodils for my hostess; hers wouldn’t bloom for another 8 weeks. The field would have been easier to navigate if the temperature had stayed just below freezing, rather than just above. Someone said, "All we need is a rock band and a couple of naked people and we'd have Woodstock, " but we couldn't find any volunteers. Funky fur hats showing claws, faces, and tails were popular. Many people come to chainsaw carving from backgrounds in construction and logging, but I’m not the only person with a blue-chipper day job. One westie started at Boeing; another carver has *@nasa.gov in his email address.

I saw a wide mix of tool use--some people are chainsaw-only purists; others simply VERY good at adding detail with a chainsaw, yet others not interested in adding detail at all, and a substantial segment hauled generators or batteries out to the field so they could use electric tools for finishing. Some people burn their carving (to add color) with a hand-held propane cylinder; others were using flamethrowers and grill-sized gas tanks.

"Huh? What was that?" With most people in earplugs and the rest suffering some degree of hearing loss, conversation on the field could be difficult. Away from the field, the noise was more like a hive of bees than a roaring engine. In the midst of 180 people running chainsaws, it's still possible to find a certain solitude and calm--put on your earmuffs and pull the starter cord.

Ice carving is wet work—imagine how wet you’d be if all the sawdust a chainsaw generates is ice that melts the moment it hits your shirt. Rumors are that ice carving pays well, but the raw material is expensive, and heavier and more demanding, than wood. One block of ice weighs 300# and it's not at all hard to use two if the carving needs width. I was pretty focused on the carving; didn’t want to back into someone else’s saw and the footing gets tricky when the “scrap” is chunks of ice, rather than wood, and didn’t notice we’d drawn a crowd. It was a shock to come back from lunch and suddenly realize I was part of the "talent," rather than “audience,” and these people watching thought there was something special about chainsaw carving. Hey, the birds were there all along, as were the cranes, bears, unicorns, and all the other creatures that appeared around the (ice) fountain by the end of the day—all we did was let them out!

Map from Pittsboro to Ridgway

The auction on Saturday afternoon was a lesson in marketing and meeting the needs of the buying public. "It's a people's art--if it were marble or bronze, they'd never be able to afford it." "If it doesn't tell a story and you can't sit on it, it won't sell." That statement was borne out by sale prices, for the most part. Bears sell, but for the record, the three top-selling carvings were a ram, a dragonfly, and an angelfish, for $1500, $1300, and $1100 respectively. With so much work for sale, there were bargains to be had—bring your checkbook and a pickup truck!

The 2004 event will be held on Fri-Sat Feb 27 and 28. Carvers will start arriving Wed evening and there will be seminars and demonstrations on Thursday. The auction will start at noon on Saturday. If you’re interested in garden art or a folk art experience, and you have the where with all to drive north for 10 hours and endure serious cold weather, stop by! I’ll be in the booth with the penguins; look for the Pittsboro Penguins banner.

Copyright © 2004 Karen Tiede

 
 
Chatham Carver Carves for Children
Icebirds - Carved for the Make-a-Wish foundation.


Related info:
Pittsboro Penguins

Ridgway Rendezvous

Long version
 
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