Chainsaws, it turns out, are good for more than terrorizing young people in rural Texas and fighting off Deadites. They can also be used to create art. (And cut wood for practical purposes apparently, but who would ever use them for that?)
The use of chainsaws as a tool for artistic expression will be on full display Aug. 7 through 9 at Purgatory Resort for Carve Wars, when the chainsaw carving competition returns to the area on its tour.
You’re almost certainly already familiar with chainsaw art in the form of all those black bear — frequently holding “welcome” signs — (and to a lesser extent owl and eagle) statues you can find in forest-adjacent touristy areas throughout North America. But they’re only the surface of what chainsaw art can be.
While checking out the portfolios of the artists competing at Purg this year, we stumbled onto the largely fantastical, slightly demented work of Joe Srholez of Sweetwater, Colorado, near Gypsum. We’re not sure if it was the 8-foot tall Bigfoot or the cannabis-leaved Green Men, but we had to know more.
The artist got into chainsaw art while building log homes in 2000. He was running saws all the time, he says, and decided to carve a saddle into a log he was sitting on after its sharp edges kept cutting into his legs. From there, he took carving up as a hobby and means of artistic expression. He eventually switched over to carving full time as a profession about three years ago.
“I love doing monsters and stuff,” said Srholez, who runs the Sweetwater Trading Post with his family. “It’s so fun. ... I’m basically trying to get that stuff out of my brain.”
At least part of his inspiration, he said, comes from the illustrations of his 17-year-old, art school-bound daughter.
“A lot of things that I do are drawings that she’s come up with, and then I look at it and I’m like, ‘Wow, that would make a great carving.’”
Carving in his studio, though, is a lot different from competition, Sholez says, because time is of the essence during the latter. While competing, he slips into a sort of autopilot, knocking out all the pieces he needs to within the time limit.
If you go to Carve Wars, you’re almost certainly going to see more of those bears and birds of prey – largely because of how the competition works.
“The way that the competition is decided is auction amounts,” said Joe Wenal, chainsaw artist and organizer of Carve Wars. “Everything the carvers carve gets auctioned off in a live auction on Saturday and Sunday. And then whoever gets the highest amount in the auction would win first place, and whoever gets the second highest amount will get second place, so on and so on.”
As such, the best strategy is for the artists to carve pieces that they think the audience will want.
“Not everybody wants a monster. They’re a hard sell, you know, so there’s a lot of bears and owls and eagles — the typical things that people really enjoy. But within that I have some other designs that people like that is a little bit out of your typical chainsaw carving,” Srholez said.
And Srholez isn’t the only talented chainsaw artist competing. Among the eight carvers at this year’s event are Wyatt and Michelle Harrison, a husband and wife duo from New Jersey, and Durango-based artist Travis Reed, who won first place in 2018 by carving a bench that doubled as a tribute to the bear cub rescued during the 416 Fire of that year. (The bench, the last time we saw it, was located at the Durango Welcome Center.)
Suffice to say we’re interested to see what the competitors come up with at this year’s Carve Wars.