You read that right. Who woulda thought?
So here we are on this farm in Norway where they dabble in quite the variety of activities. Recently Arne was facilitating a two-day chainsaw art workshop and invited his wwoofer volunteers -that’s us- to participate. Well we certainly couldn’t say we had anything else to do, it was the weekend, after all. And while it’s nothing I ever before living here would have presumed I would do, try, or otherwise be interested in [for no particular reason, either], I have to admit that because he invited us to try it I felt that I should at least give it a try. When else would it ever be an option? Ever. In the rest of my life?
Never, probably. I certainly don’t own ten Husquevarna chainsaws of various sizes, nor would I have access to such a shop anywhere else on the planet.
So, the day before the workshop Brad brought me into the shop to get just the slightest bit familiar with running a chainsaw. Read: how to hold it, how it starts, what to watch out for, and then a few practice cuts.
At this point I would like to say that I think this might have been my first time running a chainsaw myself. Brad has one back in Idaho, and maybe I used it but most likely I didn’t. Logically, I probably didn’t because if Brad was there to run it then why would I have used it? Whatever I would have thought I would like cut with his chainsaw would have also therefore been cut by him. So, while I did become fairly decent with an ax and firewood chopping in the last five years or so, I never took the opportunity to use a chainsaw. They had always sounded quite daunting to me, actually. I mean, think of the movies “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Scarface”! Plus, they’re generally loud and sound like a pretty big engine to be running by hand with a huge saw attached to the end of it. But anyways, here goes nothing!
Day 1: Carve a Bear.
The class consisted of five students: two Norwegian gentlemen from different areas, Richard from Scotland, Brad, and me. Yes, I’m the only female. And yes, I’m the only one who hadn’t run a chainsaw before this week. But that’s okay, I’m up for the challenge. Even though I was a little scared I’d cut my leg off or something, I charged forward and gave it a try. After all, by now I’d made two cuts in a log for practice the day before which is as solid of a foundation as there would be. Anyways, he wouldn’t have offered to teach me if he didn’t think I could do it, and quite frankly, it was an honor to give it a try.
I suspect a bear is the first choice because they are quite large, the bear profile really doesn’t have a tremendous amount of small details to cut, and for the most part they must be fairly easy. I say this because why else would it be the choice for the first day of a chainsaw art workshop?
The first BIG cuts, called “blocking”, were a lot intimidating. I had no idea what sounds to listen for to know how to run the saw at first. This is a skill that comes with time and practice and more experience: and a person has to start somewhere. However, after the first set of ‘blocking’ was completed, the rest of the cuts and shaping were not as intimidating, although some of it was more difficult. As you can see, the bear actually began to take shape quite nicely.
Arne structured the day basically where he would present, demonstrate, discuss, and then go around and mark with colored chalk the cuts we should make on our own logs. We would then work for what seemed to be approximately 30 minutes to complete what took him about five to seven minutes. So it was coffee, listen, watch, coffee, chalking, sawing, sweating, sawing, shaping, repeat. All. Day.
I have to admit that I fell a little behind on Day 1, partly because my arms got so tired of being careful when maneuvering the chainsaw and shaping and cutting and shaping some more that I took a longer lunch break than the rest. But also I think my arms are really just not in shape for holding and facilitating a chainsaw all day! Just after the scheduled six hours of Day 1 Arne called us to stop even though I think all five of us students felt like our bears needed more work. I think the good news is that we all got a lot accomplished and what that morning was ‘just a log’ was slowly but surely transformed into a sort of bear by that afternoon.
Day 2. Carve an Owl.
Over dinner the previous evening we all talked Arne into beginning day 2 with a demonstration of his carving prowess. After all, this is what the students are interested in seeing! It takes the whole class about five hours with all the stops and starts and going step-by-step to carve something that takes Arne a mere 15 minutes. Yep, we timed him. His owl demonstration took a mere five minutes to block it out quite well and really be recognizable as an owl, and another 10 minutes to add the finer details such as a face with eyes and beak, nicely rounded head, feathers,shaped and finalized tail-feathers, and lastly the claws holding fast to the log. Really, it was incredible.
One thing that I have always enjoyed is watching people do something they’re really good at. Whether it’s watching someone roll and toss fresh pizza dough, or watching Brad mix paint expertly, or watching someone who is driving a bus. When a person moves effortlessly with their tools, with their medium, and within themselves it can really be a mesmerizing experience. Watching Arne create this owl as he danced around the log with his chainsaw fit into this category as well. He is very fluid and comfortable with the machine, something that -at least speaking for myself- did not feel like the case for most of the two days. Oh sure, I started feeling much more comfortable with it after the first day, and I found myself less scared of hurting myself and more interested in making sure I didn’t over-cut the sculpture as I got into the shaping end of things. But for me the appearance of fluidity and comfort was fleeting at best. It was something attained for just a small moment over the course of the two days.
As it was happening though, I noticed and it felt good. There really is a zone where you just kind of commune with the animal-to-be. Does it make me strange to say “hey owl, are you gonna come on through that big log or what?” Or, “hey owl! Sorry about your head, there. Let me see if I can smooth that out in a bit”. I mean, there just has to be an owl personality in there somewhere, somehow. Otherwise, how would all of our owls look so incredibly different? Not only did we of course all have different shaped logs to begin with, but we also have our own personalities coming out as we work on the sculptures, and added to this we all have our varying levels of ability with chainsaws, too.
All in all I would say it was a very cool experience to partake in. Who would have thought that I would ever even create a sculpture with a god-forsaken chainsaw, of all things? I mean, I like art, I enjoy creating art, but with a chainsaw? Never even saw it coming. And you know what? It was really fun, even though difficult in ways. And you know what else? Instead of ship our sculptures back to the US, we might save that shipping cost and invest in a chainsaw when we return stateside and recreate our own bears and owls again to keep as part of the experience.
Thank you to Arne at Askeland Gard. His work and bio can be viewed at www.motorsagkunst.no
His next chainsaw art workshop will be facilitated February 2nd and 3rd, 2013. Please contact him directly using the contact information on the link above if you think you would like to attend. Space is limited.