Watching the Sawdust Fly: Out and About
Huge Carving of an Elk by Sculptor Dennis Beech, which won the People's Choice Award
By Dave Zuchowski
In 1998, what started off as a small informal family get-together has become one of the biggest gatherings of chainsaw carvers in the nation.
In 1998, nine chainsaw carvers gathered in the back yard of Rick and LIz Boni’s home in Ridgway, Pa. A year later, twin brothers Rick and Randy Boni and their wives, Liz and Wendy, staged the first annual Chainsaw Carvers Rendezvous at Sandy Beach Park in their hometown.
The event, which now draws nearly 200 professional chainsaw carvers from all over the country and around the world, who demonstrate their craft to audiences of thousands of people each year.
“My uncle Randy first got interested in chainsaw carving when he made a small totem pole with a chainsaw for a class project for his girlfriend’s daughter," said Zoe (Boni) Dussia, a chainsaw carver. "When he decided to make a bigger one, my father [Rick] pitched in to help out because he studied art at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and the Columbus School of Art and Design. After they finished the totem pole, both were hooked on the art.”
Last year, from April 25 through 28, 65 chainsaw carvers from around the country, Germany, England and as far away as Mongolia converged on the grounds of the Motion Control Building in Ridgway for the 20th annual event.
Each carver is given an assigned space on the sprawling grounds where they display artifacts they created with nothing more than a chainsaw. While answering questions about their craft, they also give live demonstrations of how intricate and detailed figures can be created from a wooden log with nothing more than a chainsaw—the type of saw typically used to rough cut wood for fireplace and furnace burning in winter.
As part of the competition, each carver is given an 8-foot log and asked to carve a figure of choice as onlookers amble over the grounds gazing in awe at their creations. Bears are popular figures, as are eagles, owls, fantasy figures like dragons and other creatures right out of comic books. One of the largest was an elk, carved by Dennis Beach and commissioned by the Elk Country Visitors Center; it stood on a wagon near the entrance to the Motion Control Building.
“The carvers start with a large chainsaw and big log, block and shape the log, then use smaller saws to finish and detail the sculpture,” Dussia said.
Also on board
Carvers bring smaller carvings they created to sell onsite. It’s not unusual to see attendees carrying small wooden bear cubs and other figures they’ve purchased. At the end of their visit, patrons vote for the People's Choice Award, one of three given to the carvers—along with a Social Media Choice and Carver’s Choice Award.
The Boni family continues to organize the annual rendezvous, and while they exhibit and sell their craft/artwork at the event, they're so busy seeing that everything goes as smoothly as possible they don't find time to do the actual carving themselves.
Inside a long, spacious building, nearly 70 vendors display country-style crafts and homemade foods, while a variety of musical acts—ranging from acoustic pop and country rock and indie-folk, orchestral Americana and organic pop, play on stage throughout the four-day event. Local craft breweries, wineries, and distilleries handed out samples of their products, including everything from the newest IPAs to moonshine.
Ridgway is a fitting location for the chainsaw event because the town of 4,028 residents was once a center of Pennsylvania's lumber industry. Founded by Jacob Ridgway in 1824, the town grew up around the Hyde-Murphy Woodworking Company and, around the start of the 20th century, claimed it had more millionaires per capita than any other town in the U.S. (Williamsport, Pa., also makes this claim.)
Up the road from the center, three additional viewing areas on Winslow Hill give you a chance to see more elk in a series of spectacular settings. From mid-September to mid-October, thousands of visitors flock to the area to hear the elk bulls bugle during the rutting season.
For more information on what to do in the region, phone (814) 849-5197 or visit VisitPAgo.com.
If You Go
This year, the Chainsaw Carvers Rendezvous takes place April 23-25, on Gillis Ave., in Ridgway.
Meet the carvers, buy finished pieces, enjoy musical entertainment, partake of delicious food, wine and beer, and witness live chainsaw carving.
More information is at ChainsawRendezvous.org.