To learn from our past, we have to remember it.
Perhaps many of the 13,000 people who came to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, for the U.S. Open Chainsaw Sculpture Championship did not take a side trip through the Paul Bunyan Logging Camp Museum to learn about the devastating history of exploitation of the natural forests in the upper midwest. They missed an opportunity to learn about the clear-cutting followed by wildfires that contributed to the birth of the conservation movement in America. But their purchases of tickets and auctioned sculptures will support the educational mission of the Museum, which established the chainsaw championships because they wanted a fundraiser that inspired a connection with the history of the area.
Visitors to the event did get to enjoy a fabulous phenomenon. Although noisy chainsaws tearing into large, old growth logs may seem like a strange way to honor the conservation of our forests and our reliance on their natural resources, the art form does represent the junction of modern machinery and ancient human desires: a microcosm of the world we face every day. These sculptures remind us that humankind's "dominion" over nature should be used to create beauty and balance.
This concept was captured to perfection by this year's winner, Steve Higgins of Missouri. His sculpture, titled 'Time flies as nature cries' embodies balance as the sculpture soars away from its base but cantilevers back across its center of gravity to remain upright. Every surface honors nature in the tradition of the totem pole, with images of owls nesting safely in the antlers of a leaping buck, a proud wolf, and wild bear among others. Leading the surge, a woman's face etched with concern -- Mother nature -- and a smiling man, with hair flowing -- representing Father time -- warn us that we don't have forever to act to protect the nature that supports us (detail at top).
Takao Hayashi of Japan has won previous competitions, but went home with second place this year for 'Lazy Days'. Hayashi's work typically melds an Asian flavor into an art form originating with the native American fauna and flora.
Hayashi remains a purist in the art of chainsaw sculpting. While some competitors had enough tools to start their own hardware store, Hayashi employs exclusively the chainsaw to create his peaceful animal scenes, with the exception of a small tool used to form the perfectly round eyes of smaller animals. But even the sleepy eyelid of Lazy Days' hippo was detailed by Hayashi's delicately maneuvered powered blade.
A chainsaw properly wielded in the forest can remove diseased trees, protect delicate habitats, and create conditions for more diversity and the return of cherished hardwoods.
Welsh carver Simon O'Rourke surprised passers-by with the secret hiding beneath what appeared to be a chainsaw sculpture of the most traditional sort: a towering bear. But look again: this one is a man in a bear suit. From behind, an exquisitely detailed zipper hints at the surprise inside.
In addition to the masterpiece competition, participants have 60 minutes to complete a sculpture in the quick carve events. This work by Chris Foltz of Oregon, who has been featured on the reality TV show Saw Dogs, shows how bear catching fish can be released from the spirit of the tree.
The finished sculptures brought in hundreds of dollars each, proceeds which were split between the competitors and the fund raiser. The winning sculpture went for $3100, a true steal for a beautiful piece that will endure for generations. Many of the artworks auctioned were more practical: artistic and natural tables, furniture, or wall hangings seem like treasures compared to most of the disposable products on offer at the big box stores. It would be lovely to see a comeback of local artisans supplying our furnishing needs.
Foltz's masterpiece, titled 'The Devil Went Down to Georgia' demonstrates that the art of chainsaw sculpture has already moved away from its roots in native American art, and will evolve into sculptures on themes we cannot yet imagine.
At the height of logging, in 1898, 8 million acres of Wisconsin forest had been clear cut. The disastrous wildfires and erosion that ensued threatened humans and native species, but it spurred people to start taking an inventory of nature -- what it provides us and what we must do to protect it. That tradition is honored in the cause supported by the U.S. Open Chainsaw Sculpture Championship.
We hope the beauty of these sculptures inspires budding naturalists to protect, preserve, and promote the environment upon which we rely. Because nature is crying. And time is flying.