COLUMBIA — Turtles, eagles, bears and owls made of wood sat beneath a tent at the Boone County Fairgrounds on Friday. Fairgoers wandered by and stopped to admire the pieces of art — only the buzz of a chainsaw from a neighboring tent provided a clue as to the unorthodox origin of the sculptures.
Stacey Robinson has been making art with a chainsaw for 25 years. He’s from Montgomery City, but has traveled with his family around the country creating wooden sculptures — from northern states like the Dakotas and Minnesota, all the way down to 5 miles off the Texas border.
Robinson started off hand carving small pieces, but wanted to make something on a larger scale. “I’ve always liked chainsaws,” he said. “And once I got started with the saw, well…”
As Robinson, his wife and their five children started traveling, the business started growing, and everything seemed to fall into place, he said. It turned into a full time job. He sells the sculptures, takes custom orders, does corporate events, helps with promotions for saw companies and has booths at fairs.
Robinson starts each of his sculptures out with a log, usually walnut, oak or cedar, if he has a choice. He gathers pieces of tree trunks left behind by loggers and prefers to use wood he gets in Missouri. The forked pieces and remnants with lots of knots would rot, he said, and this way they’re put to good use.
After selecting a log, Robinson roughs out the basic shape of what he’s creating with a chainsaw. He has a basic idea when he begins but is open to changing the design as he continues to carve.
“I just let it go and do whatever I want,” he said.
Robinson then switches to progressively smaller blades to refine the sculpture. At the end of the sculpting process, he uses a carving bar, which attaches to a normal chainsaw and allows him to create details that would be impossible with a larger saw.
“My wife says I can write my name better with a saw than just writing it,” Robinson said.
With the smaller blade, he can finish up the eyes, beaks or hair that make his art come to life. His favorite subjects to carve come from wildlife and the American West, he said. However, he said he finds inspiration everywhere.
“You look around and see something,” he said. “It comes from everything I see.”
Robinson can do custom work from photographs or even carve art out of dead stumps left in customers’ yards.
If someone has a tree that’s been in his or her yard for 50 years and can’t bear to get rid of completely, he said, he or she might have him come in and create a piece of art out of it instead of removing it.
There are other artists that use chainsaws in a similar way, he said, but not many that he knows of in Missouri. He had been carving for about four years when a friend told him about a chainsaw carving contest in Minnesota. Before that, he had been unaware anyone else was doing chainsaw art.
He entered the contest and took fourth place on the first day and fifth place on the second day. The money he won paid for the trip, he said, but the real prize was the knowledge he gained about the craft — seeing the other carvers work and the types of tools that they used. “It was worth more than anything,” he said.
Robinson's goal this week at the Boone County Fair was to complete four pieces per day. He's planning on selling the work he's created at an auction that will start around 5 p.m. Saturday at Robinson's tent at the fair.
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