Sawfest promotes art appreciation, collaboration

Local talent and friendly competition are the names of the game when it comes to one of the newest Progress Days events.

For the third year in a row, Progress Days will host the Sawfest Chainsaw Carving Competition, where local carvers will spend more than three days creating an artistic masterpiece out of one large log.

The competition was first conceived about seven years ago by local chainsaw artist Scott Hanson, owner of Town of Living Trees on the Sterling Highway, as a way to push his apprentices to new levels of skill.

“I had five apprenticeships here at one time,” Hanson said. “(The competition) grew a little bit, and because I was a nonprofit organization I had a hard time getting sponsors. It was really successful, but I was doing so much … and I just got a little burnt out on it, so me and my wife decided not to do it, and that day the chamber showed up.”

Hanson said members of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce jumped at the chance to include Sawfest in its annual Progress Days festival.

“We ended up picking it up … and it’s really become a community favorite,” said Tami Murray, executive director at the chamber.

Murray said a mix of local and other carvers participate each year, and will begin carving when the logs are set up on July 23. Each artist will draw to see which log he will have to work with, and will get to keep their masterpiece at the end of the competition.

The carvers will also create mini-masterpieces out of smaller logs during “quick carves” at 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday during Progress Days. Those smaller pieces will be auctioned off at the Soldotna Chamber Annual Pie Auction.

Local chainsaw artist Derrick Stanton, owner of Derrick Stanton Log Works in Kenai, said getting together with other carvers from the area to share and learn is what makes the Sawfest competition worthwhile. Stanton has been competing since the original Sawfest, when he was one of Hanson’s apprentices.

Stanton said the trick to Sawfest is going into the competition with a design already created and his cuts planned out. He said that while statues of eagles and bears might be the best sellers in areas like the Kenai Peninsula, the competition is about pushing himself and the other carvers.

Hanson, who has been carving for 25 years, agreed that the key to success at Sawfest is preparedness.

“One time, I didn’t know what I was going to make, and I won’t do that again,” he said. “I carve it over and over in my head first before I actually do it. I’m just kicking around some ideas. Then I’ll sit down and draw it out. After you’ve carved it in your mind 50 times … it’s already kind of a done deal.”

Carvers also use the competition as an opportunity to share trade skills, catch up with friends and learn from each other. Stanton said the competition between the local artists is much friendlier than at other carving competitions he’s participated in.

“We kind of all help each other out and share ideas and tools and secrets,” Stanton said. “It’s just neat to get around the other carvers.”

Stanton and Hanson said there’s something about watching the carvers turn a raw log into an artistic creation that keeps the public coming back over the three-day competition. Since Sawfest has become part of Progress Days, Hanson said the community support for the event has grown extensively. It’s important, he said, to create a piece that is not only pleasing to the eye, but has meaning behind it.

“Whatever you make, it should be a masterpiece,” Hanson said. “If you don’t push yourself, you never grow. You should challenge yourself. I always like a carving that tells a story.”

The winners of the Sawfest Chainsaw Carving Competition will be announced at 3 p.m. on Sunday. A $1,000 prize will be split between the top four carvers, Murray said. Carvers will also compete for a People’s Choice Award.

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