Chainsaw artist Mark Kurtz was invited to demonstrate his art at the fall festival at St. Anthony Church in Watkins Sunday, Sept. 9. Here, he’s removing a larger chunk of wood to reveal the eagle’s wing; carving is cutting away what’s not needed. Kurtz works at this full-time, has a studio in Avon, and many of his works can be seen at Chainsawman.com.
By Jean Doran Matua, Editor
“When I was younger, I knew I was different,” said Mark Kurtz Sunday afternoon, adding, “But being an individual is not easy.”
The setting was the fall festival at the Church of St. Anthony in Watkins. A perfect late-summer day: neither too warm nor cool, just enough breeze to be refreshing. Mark Kurtz of Avon was invited to be the “entertainment” for the afternoon, demonstrating how he carves statues using chainsaws.
Amazingly, Kurtz was able to make quite a bit of progress in a relatively short period of time. First a log, then a rough shape, and then a recognizable but still unfinished eagle all while an appreciative audience watched on. By removing big chunks, making refining trims, and adding a few textural finishes, Kurtz wielded his chainsaw to bring out the clear shape of an eagle from an aged log.
The best logs for chainsaw carving are at least 2-3 years old, reducing the moisture in them. If this had been a fresh log, he explained, he would have been covered with water from the log as he carved. Soft woods like white pine and spruce are preferred, although he works in oak and other woods as well.
What took a relatively short time – the carving – was actually only a small part of the process. There’s preparation, including selecting the best log for a project, and a lot of finishing. He uses chainsaws in different sizes to do 99 percent of the carving. For finer details, he may use a Dremel tool. He can, though, carve letters into a six-sided pencil with his smaller chainsaw.
Finishing work can take days to weeks, and letting the wood cure properly is crucial. The sculptures may be finished with sealant, stain, varnish, and/or paint.
Kurtz started hand-carving
at age 12. He had ADHD, and he wasn’t doing well in school. He excelled at carving, though, and it was very satisfying.
He moved on to chainsaw carving, starting slow and always improving, even still. After 33 years, Kurtz is still evolving his skills and his repertoire. And he’s loving it all.
“It is a gift,” he said Sunday. When he started carving, older guys used to tell him that we all have abilities, uniqueness, and style. Kurtz has found his. We all have them.
He interviews his customers before undertaking a custom order, letting everything “process” through him. “Their carving has to feel right to them. They reveal themselves with ideas.” And Kurtz embodies those ideas and their uniqueness in his sculpture. This is true art, something that can’t be replicated digitally or in a factory.
Each carved piece has a job to do, Kurtz said. “The job of each sculpture is to heal you daily with visual inspiration.” Producing such meaningful, healing pieces is serious business. It’s something Kurtz is able to make a living at, and it is his full-time occupation.
Chainsaw carving is not an easy occupation. Neither is being self-employed. Kurtz has to maintain good physical condition in order to wield chainsaws as easily as a painter would a brush. Gym workouts, weekly chiropractic visits, and massage therapy are key to his success.
It hasn’t been an easy path for him, either. Kurtz grew up on a farm, one of 11 children. He knew deprivation, and he knew hard work. At 17, he faced death after a chainsaw went through his face. They figure he lost about half his body’s blood on the way to the hospital. He saw his past, his present, and his future aspirations, and he decided in the ambulance that he wasn’t done with this life yet.
“It’s been an interesting journey,” he said. “I appreciate the full circle of life.” Part of that circle, for him, is sharing his passion. Sunday, Kurtz learned that a young boy admiring his work had a birthday that day. He carved the boy’s initials into a block of wood, and it brought a big smile to the boy’s face. That was his special moment and memory from Sunday.
Kurtz has a studio just off I-94 in Avon. His works are for sale, and he accepts custom orders. Perhaps one of his works can be your visual inspiration.