As the sun sets on the Kenai Peninsula’s busy tourist season, Eric Berson is closing up shop for the winter. You won’t be able to see his carved bears, or Berson himself wielding his chainsaw to make a new creation, instead, Eric and his family will be making their way to Port Angeles, Washington, where he’ll get to work.
Eric’s year is one long busy season when it comes to chainsaw carving. During the summer, Eric, his wife, Jennifer, and their family live on site at The Dreamer’s Wood in Sterling, selling his chainsaw work along the Sterling Highway. In the winter, Eric returns to Washington, where he sources the red cedar he uses for nearly all of his work, and spends the winter cutting wood.
“I draw with my saw, really,” Eric said. “I can’t really sketch worth beans and I don’t really do anything else artistic.”
Eric taught himself how to chainsaw carve after finding himself cutting down trees on his property in Clam Gulch.
“I was born and raised in Clam Gulch,” Eric said. “I had all these trees that had to come down, so I cut them down to make sure they wouldn’t fall on the house. Then, one day, I saw some carvings and thought, ‘Hey, that’s pretty cool.’”
With those early pieces, Eric saw an opportunity. He put them on the side of the road and sold them.
“When I was living out there, I was single and was living pretty cheap so it was enough to get by,” Eric said.
Then, Eric met his wife and his family started to grow, but chainsaw carving still maintained a big role in his life.
“One day, we were talking to each other and realized that we could either move full time or really try this for real,” Jennifer said. “So, we decided to go for it and he’s been carving and we’ve been selling ever since.”
Eric prefers to work with red cedar for his pieces, since they can be found in bigger sizes and are prevalent in the Lower 48.
“Sometimes I just can’t find a log for as big as I need up here,” Eric said. “So, I’ll ship a lot of the logs up here. … You can glue and screw stuff together, which is what a lot of other carvers in the area have had to resort to to get anything big, and there is an art to that, but I’m not so good at it.”
Eric is good at cutting, though. After years of teaching himself the intricacies of the machine and the wood, he’s mastered the small, Alaska themed wood carvings that make him a living, while still being ambitious on the work that fuels his artistic side.
“Wildlife is what interests and inspires me,” Eric said. “What I like doing is more of the scenes, the snapshots in time of wildlife.”
These scenes can be spotted across Eric’s property — a wolf stalking the corner of the front porch or a mama bear and her cubs being watched over by a raven outside of the work shed.
“You have to be bold,” Eric said. “Just start making cuts and hope it comes out good in the end. There is something that some old carver said, ‘The trick is removing everything that doesn’t look like a bear.’”
Eric is teaching his son, Joshua, how to be bold too as he shows the 10-year-old the ins and outs of chainsaw carving.
“It’s fun, I made a bunch of trees,” Joshua said. “And I sold every single tree I made, except for the first one. They said I couldn’t sell it.”
“Yep, that one is hanging on your wall,” Eric said. “You have to keep the first carving you made … but he’s only 10, so I don’t let go of the saw, yet.”
Next summer, though, the tourists that pull off of the Sterling Highway to visit The Dreamer’s Wood can go home with a Berson original, by Eric, or even Joshua.