While in Seldovia, we watched as five master carvers used chainsaws to transform blocks of wood into amazing pieces of art. The Seldovia Craft Invitational Chainsaw Carving Competition, held annually on Labor Day weekend, was happening while we were there, and it was a treat to witness these unique artists in action.
Started in 2006 by local carvers Toby and Elaine Craft, the competition, (which was originally named after them), is sponsored by the Seldovia Chamber of Commerce and other community organizations. As we researched our trip to Seldovia and first read about the event, we thought it might be kitschy and that the artwork would be simple and crude. I mean, how crafty can you get when using a tool normally used to slice through tree trunks? We were quite mistaken: the pieces that these artists created were creative, complex, and beautiful.
Chainsaw carving is a real thing. According to Wikipedia, this art form started in the United States in the 1950’s. Many of the artists are professionals that sell their pieces for thousands of dollars. The first Chainsaw Carving World Championship (now known as the U.S. Sculpture Chainsaw Championship) was held in Wisconsin in 1987, and there are other competitions now held around the country and the world.
The artists at work
Five master carvers, all from Alaska, participated in the 2017 Invitational. Potential participants submit an entrance application to the town of Seldovia; those selected must find their own transportation to the nearby city of Homer, but from there Seldovia hosts them, as well as their assistants and families, for the entire weekend, providing them with transportation from Homer along with housing and meals.
The artists are given a Sitka spruce log sourced locally and have 4 days to carve their masterpieces. They’re allowed one assistant to help them with this ambitious undertaking.
The event was ongoing throughout the weekend. The artists had carving sessions interspersed with breaks, giving not just them but the town a respite from the chain saws, which could be heard throughout Seldovia when the carvers were working.
The competitors were Jordan Anderson, Ben Firth, Derrick Stanton, Scott Thompson, and Dave Tremko. I’ve included links to the artists’ websites (click on their names) with the exception of Dave Tremko, who doesn’t have one. He does, however, have a YouTube site with videos of him carving, and he also had a brief bit of fame when, as a guest of the The Tonight Show, he completed a chainsaw carving of Jay Leno’s face on live TV.
We returned frequently to watch the carvers’ progress. The themes were varied and offered a glimpse into the individual style and creative processes of each artist. The sculptures ranged from classic Alaskan—Tremko’s eagle grasping a salmon, Firth’s explorer looking out toward the sea, and Stanton’s tipsy, crusty sailor—to the fantastical (Thompson’s dragon & fairy and Anderson’s underwater scene that looked like something out of a Jules Verne novel).
The judging took place on Sunday. A panel of six judges selected the top three pieces, which were awarded monetary prizes ($3,000 for first place, $2,000 for second, and $1,000 for third). Spectators also cast their votes for the People’s Choice award, and the carvers selected their personal favorite.
The results were:
- 3rd Place: Scott Thompson’s “Baby Dragon & Forest Fairy”
- 2nd Place: Derrick Stanton’s “Salty Dog”
- 1st Place: Jordan Anderson’s “Monsters of Middleton”
Stanton’s “Salty Dog” also won the People’s Choice, and Anderson’s “Monsters of Middleton” won Carver’s Choice.
Here are the five sculptures:
Monsters of Middleton
Baby Dragon & Forest Fairy
Eagle and salmon
Ben Firth’s creation (the name of which I could not find):
The artists also had several “quick carve” sessions, creating smaller pieces that were auctioned off to the public. Here’s one of them, by Dave Tremko:
One of the neat things about the Invitational is that all of the sculptures, with the exception of the quick carves, stay in Seldovia and become part of an outdoor sculpture museum. The artwork is displayed all over town, in parks, along the waterfront, and in front of businesses. Around 50 sculptures are scattered throughout Seldovia. Here’s a sampling (see our previous post for more examples):
The chainsaw competition was a fun addition to our Seldovia trip and made us appreciate just how much effort goes into the town’s collection of chainsaw carvings. If you visit Seldovia, take time to admire the beauty of its outdoor sculpture museum!