RIDGWAY – The Ridgway Chainsaw Carvers Rendezvous, and the chainsaw carving art form itself has evolved over the years.
Many of the carvers convening in downtown Ridgway were once humble beginners, creating mushrooms and bears from random logs. The mantra of late, however, seems to be "Go big or go home," as carvers continuously try to get better and better, and take on projects of seemingly epic proportions.
A prime example is Scott Dow, owner of Animalistic Chainsaw Carving Studio along U.S. Route 6 in Corry.
Dow arrived in Ridgway with a head-turning masterpiece: a large dinosaur greeting passersby along Main Street in the Country Squirrel Outfitters parking lot.
"I bought a couple of pine trees and they were laid out in my parking lot [in Corry]," Dow said. "I saw how big they were and one of them looked like a dinosaur head to me, so that was it, plus I loved dinosaurs when I was a kid."
The dinosaur is made up of four separate pieces: aside from the body and head, two legs and a tail were added to the masterpiece.
"I never paid attention to animal anatomy until I started wood carving," Dow said. "I don’t know if the intricate parts are the difficult parts, it’s the simple character of the animal that’s tough to get. I don’t really know that sort of thing— if you ask me how many toes a cat or a ferret has, or primary feathers a bird has— I’m not going to know that sort of thing.
"I tried to study the character and gestures of the animal, I think you have to have that before you have the other stuff. It’s just like taxidermy, it doesn’t matter how beautiful the fox was, it has to be set just right. I’ve been carving for five years now and I’m still a long way to go with my animals."
It took Dow 11 days to complete the project.
"I looked at some movie stills from ‘Jurassic Park’ and some different dinosaurs that I saw on the internet," Dow said. "You have to have something exciting out by the road to get people to stop. I had the trees to do it, and the skid loader to do it."
In recent years, carvers at the Rendezvous have been pushing the envelope more and more as the creations seem to be getting larger.
"We all see the possibilities and see what other people can do," Dow said. "People like to raise the bar and it’s fun to try to do these types of projects."
Since an early age, Dow always had an interest and deep appreciation for the arts.
With a bachelor's degree in drawing, a minor in painting and a master's degree in sculpture from Edinboro University, Dow admits to being submersed in the arts and has now "been doing it forever."
"I was struggling along a little bit and my wife told me one day about her friend's father who carved a couple bears and made about $700," Dow said. "She asked me to think about chainsaw carving so within a week I bought a saw and I haven't put it down since."
While the tools differed, Dow said he was persistent in learning how to carve works of art out of wood.
"It took me a year to really learn how to sharpen a saw well," Dow said. "I came to Ridgway and Rick [Boni] gave me some pointers along the way.
"I kind of avoided events and just learned on my own, and took in as much as I could."
After studying human anatomy all through college, Dow said he began to emphasize the animal anatomy that becomes so important in chainsaw carving.
"I switched to animals two years ago and I'm just now getting that down with the equipment," Dow said. "Hopefully I can do well this year to generate some money for some new equipment and go to different places to not just carve but see what other people are using and what they're selling."
Dow now has become a fixture at the Rendezvous.
"I first heard about this from my parents who had come over to the event for years," Dow said. "I don't know why I never came but chainsaw carving never crossed my mind, not through college and not through all the artwork I was doing, it never crossed my mind until it was mentioned to me.
"It's amazing because it's so fast, the materials are abundant and because you can do it fast, people can afford to make a substantial piece of artwork. To do something in bronze is probably 20 times the costs, maybe more-- and marble was 20 times as slow. This has just taken it to a whole new level. It's fast, awesome, fun to watch and with the chainsaw as a tool, it really separates from a chisel and hammer."
And as Dow descends to the carving grounds in hopes of creating another beautiful piece of artwork, the carver from Corry is reminded of the impact of the event that is now 15 years strong.
"The Rendezvous is special because it combines everything-- you can be competitive, you can be artistic, you can be here to try to make a little money or learn from other artists, you can be here to teach-- it's just everything about art," said Dow, whose specialty over the years has been angels and human anatomy. "I'm very thankful for the Bonis. The first year I started, I was into it for maybe a month and I called them, and they had never heard of me. I drove to Ridgway with the five or six different carvings that I had done in the back of the truck and they took an hour at least to talk about what I was doing. Then they gave me a chunk of wood to me to use and gave me some pointers.
"That's amazing to me because you don't really find that everywhere, people can be secretive but the Bonis haven't been and that learning experience was a big boost for me that set me several months ahead of where I would've been had I been on my own. From there, I went out of my way not to look at what other people were producing so that I could figure out my own style, and it's awesome."