It starts with an 8-foot-tall piece of wood.
Soon, with the skillful hand of a carver and the precise movement of a powerful chainsaw, it transforms into something more.
This weekend, just three miles south of Hackensack, the best of the best in chainsaw sculpting compete in an international championship — one that holds the promise of pride, recognition and a true showcase of artistry at its best.
For three days, competitors will head to ArtisTREE Fields for the fifth annual competition. Each competitor gets a total of 19 hours over the course of the competition and in the end, the judges will critique each masterpiece and announce this year’s Golden Chainsaw Champion.
“This chainsaw sculpting championship and the competitive chainsaw sculpting association worldwide is an effort to unite carvers, but we also want the art form to be formally recognized,” said A.J. Lutter, the head judge and co-founder of the competition. “It’s never been officially claimed as an art form, it’s sometimes thought of more as a craft.”
Take a look at the fine detail from the competitors in these chainsaw carvings and you’ll soon learn this is more than just a pastime craft.
With a total of 10 competitors coming from all over the country, including Japan and New Mexico, this year’s challenge really brings the top dogs of chainsaw sculpting, said Ross Olsen, co-founder of the Golden Chainsaw Competition.
And as the weekend progresses, the more intense and dramatic the competition becomes, he said.
Bringing The Competition Alive
Lutter, who’s been a full-time chainsaw artist for 30 years, said the competition began with a simple question, “who’s the best?” Since there weren’t a ton of chainsaw artists around at that time, he thought maybe it wouldn’t be too difficult to find out.
He and Olsen tried to create a national competition but soon, it became apparent with so many different styles and techniques, finding “the best” would be nearly impossible.
So instead, they thought they’d recognize “the golden” champion.
“Golden depicts the value and that in itself, while it’s not saying ‘You’re the fastest,’ or ‘You’re the best’ it’s saying, ‘You’re the most valuable,'” he said.
And so the Golden Chainsaw Championship was born.
Carving With Chainsaws?
Carving artwork and sculptures with a chainsaw may sound like quite the challenge, but Lutter said it can actually be the preferred tool.
“A lot of people look at my work and say, you really have patience,” he said. “But I really think I have impatience. That’s why I use a chainsaw.”
It may take a while to get used to using a chainsaw to create art, but once you do, it can make all the difference.
“It’s amazing how far you can go with just a chainsaw,” he said. “It’s the chainsaw that really does 95 percent of the work. It’s such a fast-moving tool, so what you can accomplish with a chainsaw in a day might take you weeks, or possibly months with just a mallet and chisel.”
Even though a champion will be crowned this weekend, Lutter said he’s just hoping for good weather and a good celebration of good work.
“And good recognition of chainsaw sculpting as a bona fide art form,” he said. “And to bring some pleasure to the people watching here, that’s really kind of what a lot of it is all about. We have fun with it and we want to share that fun with other people.”
Sara Boyd is a web producer and columnist at WCCO.COM.