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Chain saw carving event showcases 'hard work'
Artists create birds, a cowboy and an Indian
Roark Phillips, of Fayetteville, Tenn., uses his chain saw to shape a bear’s head during the Buzz in the Blue Ridge Chainsaw Carving Extravaganza Sunday in Helen. - photo by Tom Reed

Walking onto the field at the Buzz in the Blue Ridge Chainsaw Carving Extravaganza is like stepping into a giant bee hive.

Chain saw carvers are busy creating works of art as swiftly as their blades will allow.

“It’s the fastest, hottest, most dangerous art form in the world,” event organizer Mal “Malhatter” McEwen said.

McEwen began Buzz in the Blue Ridge three years ago. It remains the only chain saw art carving competition in the Georgia mountains. The event has been hosted by Habersham Winery in Helen for the past two years.

McEwen began his chain saw carving career after he had a carving of his Jack Russell terrier made.

“I kept looking at him and decided I could do it and started carving,” McEwen said. “Ten years later and I’m still at it.”

The competition is a test of not only artistic ability but also athleticism. Participants compete against one another in quick carve competitions that take an hour to complete and again in a 20- hour masterpiece competition.

“If you’re not an athlete you cannot be out here in this heat, doing what we do, running a chain saw for 14 hours a day,” McEwen said.

The competitions are judged on a number of factors including uniqueness, precision and degree of difficulty.

One of the five judges, Freda Elliot, takes a great interest in the creative process of chain saw carving. A former chain saw artist herself, she carefully watches the carvers to see if they are able to create what they intended to at the start.

“It’s not like we go up and say I think this is the prettiest one,” Elliot said. “You’ve got to look at it and see how it’s made and everything.”

The artists use specialty chain saws to create detailed sculptures out of one log. The finished pieces are then sold at auction.

Some of the artists created ornate benches, while others sculpted 7-foot-tall birds, a cowboy and an American Indian.

Susan Heiting of Suwanee is determined to take home a piece of art. She first came to the event of Friday but left empty handed. She said she didn’t mind having to come back because it is so much fun to watch.

“We’re looking for a bear, definitely want a bear,” Heiting said.

Chain saw artist Sheri Kieffner of Ferdinand, Ind., transformed a log into a black bear during the quick carve competition.

Formerly a hand carver, she wanted to take her craft up a notch and began chain saw carving three years ago.

“It’s hot and sweaty; it’s hard work,” Keiffner said. “It’s a lot of fun too. You challenge yourself and you push yourself and I think you become a better carver.”

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