A unique competition and art form known as Saw Fest all started with a dead tree in Scott Hanson’s yard in Sterling, “I had a dead beetle kill tree in my yard and I thought I’d give it whirl for the fun of it and 26 years later it’s what I do full time at my Town of Living Trees,” Hanson told the Dispatch in an interview. Completely self-taught Hanson says he only recently started studying animal anatomy, “I drew when I was a kid but only took art in school through the 8th grade after that never thought I’d do it again, but since I got started I’ve started studying animals and fish and studying their anatomy and all their parts and personalities. So I see things differently now and a lot of times the wood will tell me what to do like the piece I’m working on today there was a tree growing out of the main cedar trunk so I incorporated that in the carving to fit the second tree so I have a bear rubbing against it as a scratching post while she watches her cubs. I’m seeing things like that more and more now,” said Hanson who completes some 500 carvings a year now has shipped his work around the world and the lower 48 states.
The Town of Living Trees has become one of the most visited attractions on the Kenai Peninsula featuring the only Alaskan Animal Carousel and one of the world’s largest chairs. It’s over 10’ tall! “Saw Fest” which has become a popular attraction for Progress Days also started at Hanson’s Town of Living Trees and now features many of Hanson’s apprentices. In addition to the masterpieces the carvers create over the weekend the participants do a 30 minute quick carve that is a crowd pleaser. This year the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce delighted the carvers by working with Derek Stanton to haul up Washington State cedar logs the slabs of which were used for the quick carve, “This cedar is the sweetest wood to carve it super soft, has beautiful grain and detain in it and smells really good,” said Hanson. Most of his competitors including Stanton at one time or another have apprenticed with Hanson and now have shops and product booths of their own. The Chamber provided a $500 cash prize for the first place winner of the People’s Choice Award this year and when the dust had cleared and the slips counted it was the bench created from one log by Eric Berson of “The Dreamer’s Woods” that came in first. In 2nd Place was Derek Stanton’s carving of Norman Rockwell’s “The Mermaid.” Jamie Rothenbuhler
of Big Wood Chainsaw Carving in Wasilla carved a giant bear that he donated back to the Chamber with proceeds going to scholarships. Raffle tickets for the bear may still be purchased at the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce office.