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Chainsaw artists prove they're a cut above at Washago event

Carving is a 'combination of art and skill,' said Washago Carving Event participant; Auction to cap weekend event Sunday

Artists cut deep into the wood and into the hearts of the visitors to the spring Washago Carving Event.

“The work is fantastic,” said Peter Schilbach, who was attending the weekend-long event Saturday. “If you just look at the art value, you could go buy a flat painting at a gallery, but these are lifelike (carvings) and 3D.”

The Coldwater resident said the event may not have been as large as he had imagined it would be, but he was still happy to attend.

“It’s unusual to see the artists working,” said Schilbach. “It’s very unique for sure.”

The number of carvers participating rose from 10 last year to 14 this year, said John Kerr, one of the organizers.

He said he was pleased with the crowd that had been steadily coming through Friday and Saturday.

“We’ve seen about 400 cars come through,” Kerr said. “And tomorrow is the big auction at 1 p.m., so we’ll have more people come out.”

The artists create pieces in front of a live audience throughout the weekend and finish them up for the two-hour auction that closes the event on Sunday.

The funds raised through the auction, Kerr said, will go towards the $2,000 raised last year to buy a mobi-mat for increasing accessibility to the beach at Centennial Park.

Some carvers attending the event were familiar with Kerr and the show, having participated the previous year.

“I’m a little nervous at it because I’m not as good a carver as some of the other carvers here,” said Dennis Payne, adding, “If I wasn’t a half-decent carver, I wouldn’t be here.”

He came to know of the event that kicked off last year through Kerr, who owns Back Yard Stuff, a long-time Highway 11 store that sells hand-crafted carvings from multiple craftsmen.

Over the weekend, Payne said, he will be able to carve up two or three pieces only.

“It takes about four or five hours, on average, if you’re carving an owl or bear,” said the Huntsville resident, talking about the pieces that are at least four feet tall. “The smaller pieces also take about two to three hours.”

Carvings included mushrooms, human faces, and mostly animals, such as birds, wolves, owls, and otters.

But the bears seemed to be the most popular item.

“Bears are large in our area,” said Jake Rhodes of Burk’s Falls, who mostly likes making North American animals.

He likes coming to the show because it gives him a chance to meet up with other carvers and discuss tools and ideas.

Rhodes said he would like to start using a chisel more often when carving, instead of just the chainsaw and dremel he uses now.

“(Carving) is a combination of art and skill,” he said. “But the more you practice the better you’ll get at it.”

The event was not only inspiring for carvers, but it was also motivating Richard Jollife, of Coldwater, to start thinking about bringing something similar to the Coldwater Canadiana Heritage Museum.

“We came because I wanted to see how it was organized,” said Jollife, who is blacksmith by profession.

His wife, Diane Jollife, was there to admire the artwork.

“It’s interesting to see how the artists are working and creating their work,” she said. 

“It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but we enjoy it,” said Diane, who was contemplating buying a carved wooden bowl. “But people should come out and buy a piece and support the community.”

Kerr said he was happy with the way things were going and was hoping for an even larger number of carvers for the fall event planned for the last weekend of September.

“There’s nothing better than having your friends and family up and bringing them here to look at all this,” he said.

Mehreen Shahid

About the Author: Mehreen Shahid

Mehreen Shahid covers muncipal issues in Cambridge
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