Sandy Songer of Broken Bow, Oklahoma, has a bit of advice for anyone who wants to watch chainsaw artists in action.
“If you’re going to stay around us very long, you need to put some earplugs in,” she says with a laugh, as chainsaws revved and roared behind her like race cars, drowning out everything else in the background.
From carnival barkers, to Ferris wheels humming, to snorts and moos of livestock shows, late-summer state and county fairs are noisy, chaotic affairs. Add to the din this season: chainsaws buzzing.
The Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson displays chainsaw artist Gary Keenan's work four times a day and will auction off the wears on Saturday.
At the Adams (Illinois) County Fair at the end of July, a group of carvers brought their saws and their ear plugs to compete in chainsaw carving competition. Each artist turned a block of wood into a sculpture – an animal, a wizard, a dragon – and the artist whose work brought in the most money at auction was declared the winner.
Songer demonstrated her sculpting skills at the fair with her husband, Stevie. She said they’ve been carving for 16 years.
“He was a chainsaw and lawnmower mechanic and he no longer wanted to be in that business,” Songer says. “One of our salesmen was a part-time carver and he talked us into trying it. And we’ve been doing it ever since.”
The Songers were joined by eight other members of LogHoggers, a group of chainsaw sculptors, who call their work “high performance art.” Formed in 1995, the LogHoggers is owned by R.D. Coonrod of Quincy, Illinois. He said the craft has evolved over the years.
“The technology keeps expanding every year,” Coonrod says. “Manufacturers come up with new tools and equipment and attachments for the saw. With technology advancing and with people practicing more and more, it just naturally causes creativity to expand.”
The wood carvings created during the week-long exhibit at the county fair depicted bears, owls, flowers, and more. Some of the pieces stood about a foot tall, others at least six-feet tall. Some of the art was functional, such as benches and mini-bars, while others were purely decorative.
The more than 100 works created during the week were auctioned off on a steamy Sunday afternoon. Large fans whirred as people packed a long, white tent on the fairgrounds to view the pieces, and more than 100 bid cards were taken out.
Coonrod declined to say how much money they collected, though he identified the winning artist as Steven Higgins of Kansas City, Kansas.
A father and son also competed in the event. Willy Loper and his son, Matthew Loper, are from Grandview, Indiana. Both said they like to work with wood from catalpa trees.
“That’s just the best carving wood because it won’t crack on you like a lot of the other woods do,” says Willy Loper, who goes by the moniker “Chainsaw Willy. “It’s awesome to work with.”
Matthew Loper said catalpa is soft but durable. It’s easier to carve soft woods, he said, and less painful.
“You get hit in the face with chips from a hard wood,” Loper says, “it’s like somebody throwing gravel in your face.”
Rich Egger is the news director at Harvest Public Media partner station Tri States Public Radio in Macomb, Ill.