The sheer size of the logs was astounding as they rolled off the tractor tines. Freshly harvested from the mountains, the wood was green and heavy, just how the carvers wanted it. The logs were stood on end, some of them over seven feet tall. The chainsaws revved into action.
Several hundred people had the unique opportunity to watch professionals sculpt magnificent creations before their very eyes at the first annual Ronan Chainsaw Carving Rendezvous June 20-23.
Five hardy sculptors dove into the four-day competition with gusto. Some drew out the beginning lines, others just started in freehand. Each carver worked on a large main piece, plus daily “quick carves” that were offered for auction at the end of each day. The main pieces were judged at the end of the competition and offered for auction. But the competition became almost secondary to the bonds they developed between each other and with the Ronan community in this close-knit event. They all wanted to come back next year.
Libby’s Ron Adamson, who puts on the Libby Chainsaw Carving Competition (July 4-7 this year) brought a lifetime of talent to the show. Besides being known for his “Easy” sculpture, aka “The Standing on the Corner in Winslow, Arizona guy,” Adamson has created many giant masterpieces that grace the Libby area. For this show, he focused on a blue heron sculpture plus many quick carves.
Ron’s son Jeff Adamson set up next to his dad. Jeff has done wood, bronze, and stone sculpture for years, and even worked as head sculptor for a mint in Las Vegas. He tackled his first chainsaw carving only last year, but it must have come naturally, as the mountain man he cajoled out of that enormous log, “The Old Man and the Bear” (nicknamed “Jeremiah”), was magnificent.
From Bigfork came 30-year veteran carver Todd Coats. His life work has included “probably about 12,000 bears,” among many other subjects, he said. “When I was younger, it was more about mass production. Now I am more into better bears, more detail.” He also does bronzes, pen and ink and painting, but said he really enjoys doing his bears. “With limited time, I wanted to go with something I’m comfortable with.”
Two international competitors had to miss the competition due to family emergencies, but Alicia Charlton of Ontario, Canada, and Adrian Bois of Villa Elisa, Argentina brought their world class talents. Alicia, who owns her own studio and works in stone as well as wood, created an intriguingly emotional abstract piece based on the trip she experienced en route to Ronan. Marking the anniversary of her grandmother’s death, a missed flight resulted in her seeing someone who looked just like her grandmother. “Flow and Structure” featured pea pods representing her grandmother and other women in her family. A heart in two displaced pieces represented the idea that if one waits in “the flow,” they will join together, whole again.
Adrian, fresh from winning multiple “highest sale” awards at Oregon’s Reedsport competition a week before, had been told about the Ronan rodeos. His creation, “Cowgirl,” was a first for him, inspired by the beauty and culture of the Mission Valley. Adrian has spent the last several months on a carving tour that included England, Scotland, Belgium and Germany. Upcoming events will include Ocean Shores, Washington’s “Sand and Sawdust” contest and Ron Adamson’s Libby event.
Ronan Chamber of Commerce volunteers Ronna Walchuk, Lana & Bill Bartel, Susan Lake and Geof Rohrlach met once a week since last November to bring this event to fruition. Ronna, who introduced the idea to the Chamber and led the planning efforts, explains that this seemed like the perfect event for Ronan. It offered a novel experience to draw locals and tourists to town while showcasing the robust timber industry heritage of the area at the same time. Walchuck “grew up in the timber community,” as did many of her high school classmates, a history that still bonds them together. A saw mill demonstration beside the carving activity entertained and educated about where boards come from.
“It’s nice for me to see old people coming around and reminiscing,” Walchuck shared. As they watched the mill slicing boards and the chainsaws buzzing, she said “Many took in a deep breath and said, ‘Oh, that smell of sawdust…’.”