A Cut Above
U.S. Chainsaw Sculpture Championships return to EC
Wisconsin has a long and storied history as a logging state, built upon years and years of experience in the noble and virtuous pursuit of cutting wood. Some accounts even place Eau Claire as the original birthplace of Paul Bunyan, archetypical ax-man and local hero of the north woods. Most of the Chippewa Valley’s history is tied to the profession of logging in one way or another. Even today it remains a vital part of our economy, which is why it seems so fitting that the U.S. Open Chainsaw Sculpture Championships are held right here in our own backyard.
For four days in mid-August, the grating buzz from dozens of chainsaws will overtake the still air in Carson Park as the best artists from all around the world turn simple cylindrical pieces of wood into intricate and masterful works of art. In a style similar to that of Native American totem pole artists, carvers in previous U.S. Open Championships have made nature an overlying theme for their sculptures, with past pieces featuring fish, bears and various other local and exotic wildlife.
The festivities begin on the ninth of August, with activities like a meet-and-greet with the artists, live entertainment, and a “quick carve” competition, but the next day is when the real action starts. On August 10, 11 of the world’s deftest chainsaw artists – from places as far away as Germany and Japan and as close as Minnesota – will begin their “sculptures” (carvings, really), and will spend around eight hours over the next two days and three hours on the final day cutting and putting the finishing touches on their sculptures. And for those who would rather see the artists’ work in their own yards than in a display tent, ten of the final products will be auctioned off at the conclusion of the awards ceremony on Sunday, August 12.
Eau Claire’s Paul Bunyan Logging Camp Museum will play host to this year’s competition and the events surrounding it. Bill Jamerson, a decorated musician and storyteller, will be performing on August 11 and 12. Jamerson’s shows have been described as “a cross between a book talk and a music concert.” Storytelling has enjoyed a long history as (one of) loggers’ favorite pastimes, and should fit right into the educational and historical atmosphere of the Logging Camp Museum.
Separate activities for children will be available for most of each day, as well as refreshments and snacks throughout competition time. Single day admission is five dollars if purchased in advance and six dollars if purchased on site. Four day admission is twelve dollars, while children five years of age and younger will get in for free.
Chainsaw carving goes back to the first days of the modern chainsaw in the early 1950s. The pieces in Ken Kaiser’s Paul Bunyan- themed Trail of Tall Tales in California is one of the first widely recognized artistic endeavors solely created by the chainsaw. Like most newly conceived art forms, traveling and performance artists used roadside shops to gain local attention before the media caught on and competitions like the U.S. Open Chainsaw Sculpture Championships became mainstays of the art form. And while most Wisconsinites are loathe to admit it, the style has caught on and is no longer exclusively a north woods tradition any longer.
Keep in mind various local Eau Claire hotels offer special rates for competitors and spectators of the Sculpture Championships. Whatever your reason for attending, whether as an art buff, an enthusiast for the form, or even as a fan of history, this is one event that seems to have it all. Just don’t forget to bring your safety goggles.