Trading their chisels for chainsaws, a dozen master carvers will have blades buzzing this weekend for one of the most gruelling exhibitions Powell River Logger Sports has to offer.
While other events such as the Axe Throw and Chokerman’s Race will come and go within a matter of hours, the more artistic chainsaw carving competition carries on for three and a half days. All the while, spectators will be able to wander throughout Willingdon Beach and keep a close eye on the carvers and their creations.
“The chainsaw carving competition is a great asset,” said Ron Hunter, one of three local judges this year. “It creates a lot more public interest and kind of makes up for a dry spot between some of the events.”
The frenzy of activity from Thursday, July 13, to Sunday, July 16, will be a sight to behold. Heavy blocks of cedar will be transformed into everything from mermaids to movie characters, often without the aid of photos or sketches.
“I try and do everything just right from my head,” said sole local carver Clinton Bleaney, who will be joined by 11 international artists. “I don’t ever draw anything or measure anything.”
Alberta-based artist Marina Cole said a vision ultimately materializes in a way that is difficult to describe.
“Eventually your mind kind of takes over,” she said. “It’s just something you end up envisioning and it’s very hard to explain.”
That will come as welcome news to amateur carvers such as Barry Rice, a logger sports volunteer who took up the art form at home after watching the 2016 competition. From January to June, he painstakingly crafted a sign for the event that currently stands in his yard on the 4000 block of Marine Avenue. It is chainsaw carving in the most literal sense: a full-size replica of a Husqvarna 266XP.
“I’d be doing a little bit, standing back, doing a little more, taking baby steps, whereas these guys would be zipping wood off like there’s no tomorrow,” he said. “It’s a bit of a different league.”
Bleaney recalls his first carving not being nearly as lawn-worthy.
“It was an eagle that looked like a completely straight, flat, boarded goose,” he said. “It was about two inches thick and really funny looking. My buddy still has it.”
No matter how things turn out in the end, the process begins much the same way: with a quest for the perfect log. For this weekend’s competition, selections will be made by lottery.
“You should always have a couple of different plans in your mind just in case you don’t get that prime piece,” said Cole, adding that other variables such as knotting and rotting can also pose a challenge.
Even when all goes well, competitors must still plan ahead to ensure they leave enough time to finish not only the big cuts, but the little details, too.
“Everybody tries to reach the blocking phase on the first day so they can start detailing,” said Cole. “With a chainsaw you can get big amounts of wood taken off right away and get yourself down to where you need to be in order to use finer tools like die grinders.”
Judges will be looking for clean lines, the way cuts intersect and the difficulty of the subject. “And if there are add-ons, like feathers and different things, they have to be done well,” said Hunter.
At 1 pm on Sunday, July 16, the final points will be tallied using rules borrowed from Transformations on the Shore, a carving competition in Campbell River. Prize money will be awarded and winning entries will be donated and installed throughout the community.
Cole and Bleaney agree that the biggest prize of all is simply the chance to create art in a pristine setting for an enthusiastic crowd.
“You kind of get trapped in your own world when you’re carving,” said Bleaney, “so it’s definitely nice to turn around and see a whole bunch of people watching.”
Cole said being the centre of attention is not something she seeks out in general.
“Normally, I don’t like a lot of spotlight, but when it comes to carving it seems as though I can kind of get past that,” she said. “It’s almost a little bit easier when you have people watching. They can see your passion and it makes it that much better.”