Chainsaw sculptors keep crowd guessing

Wednesday, August 18, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:40 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Standing side by side, Stacey Robinson and his son, Clint, start their chainsaws. Each approaches a chest-high log and begins carving.

Audience members stare, point and nudge each other.

“What do you think it’ll be?” someone shouts over the saw’s buzz.

Stacey is deliberate. He removes chunks of wood until the top of the log is blocky and jagged. In a few minutes, a pair of ears and a muzzle emerge. By the time Stacey exchanges his saw for a smaller one, a bear’s fur and face is defined.

Stacey, 42, is an exhibition chainsaw sculptor. He and his family, also known as the Robinson Carving Company, have turned chainsaw carving into public performance. Ten months out of the year, the six Montgomery City residents steer their customized trailer to grand openings and county and state fairs around the country.

Their most recent stop is the Missouri State Fair, where Stacey and Clint perform four shows daily.

“When I pick up each piece of wood, it is a new adventure,” Stacey said. “Sometimes you can see it in there from the beginning. That’s what I love.”

Stacey’s interest in chainsaw sculpting began when he was a 21-year-old hand-carving enthusiast. When using a chainsaw to do a preliminary rough carve for a future project, he decided to keep going. He used his chainsaw for his entire project and was hooked.

Stacey kept with the craft. Nine years later, Stacey was able to quit his job in construction to do exhibitions full time. His wife, Jo, often carved alongside him.

Clint, 20, has been carving with his father for six years. He admits performing in front of audiences can be tough, especially when he makes a mistake.

“If you take off too much, you can sometimes switch in the middle to something else,” Clint said.

The sculptures, which are auctioned after their performances, often sell for hundreds of dollars. According to Clint, their most lucrative sale occurred at the 2002 Missouri State Fair when a totem pole sculpture sold for $12,000.

Stacey thinks the element of possibility plays a role in the popularity of their pieces. “We can take a piece of wood, and in an hour’s time it can become any number of things,” Stacey said.

He may be right. More than 200 fairgoers filled the bleachers for their auction last Saturday. Former Columbia residents Margie and Bob Kramer had their eye on a fish bench that eventually sold for $390. The Kramers were impressed by the Robinsons’ handiwork.

“You’ve got to have a vision and a sharp chainsaw,” Bob Kramer said.

The Robinsons will perform daily through Sunday. The sculptures from their shows will be auctioned to the public at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday.

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