John Roberts Chainsaw Woodcarvings
In a Los Angeles Times article, Sculptor Carves Art Out of Wood Chunks With His Chain Saw, by SHARON MOESER, she writes:
ART: You won't find John Roberts' creations in any museum. And that's fine with him. He enjoys his craft, and it allows time off for fishing.
From raw material he buys at lumberyards and tools purchased at hardware stores, John Roberts creates works of art.
It's not the wild, trendy art of discarded materials welded together that is often displayed in galleries or mounted in front of office buildings. Rather, it's a simple kind of folksy art that Roberts figures will never make its way into a museum. Not that he much cares.
He starts with a piece of wood, part of the trunk from an incense cedar tree, to be exact. From that tree trunk, he uses a chain saw and sculpts - or maybe it would be better to say cuts - his art.
Roberts, 52, is a chainsaw sculptor, one of a small breed that can turn firewood into something worthy of display on a mantel.
"Woodcarving's never been accepted as fine art," said Roberts, a quiet man whom one might assume had sawdust on him was because he was a lumber mill worker, rather than a wood sculptor. 'A woodcarver's probably a better artist. They don't get the recognition."
Fine artist or not, Roberts isn't doing too badly for himself. A resident of Klamath Falls, Ore., he follows good weather a few months a year to peddle his wood sculptures and otherwise spends time at his Oregon shop carving them.
"I don't have to work all year," he said. "I can take time off for hunting and fishing."
Roberts' affinity for the outdoors is evident in his work. He sculpts bears, raccoons, eagles and horses, to name a few. He can just as easily turn a piece of wood into a howling coyote or a huge fish, reminiscent of the one that got away.
When Roberts looks at a piece of a tree trunk, he said he can see a fish or a bear or a Native American standing tall in full headdress.
"You just cut away the things that are in the way," he said. At times, he has caught himself describing a piece to somebody and he realizes that he is pointing to a plain log.
From a piece of a tree trunk, untouched and unmarked except for being cut to the proper length, Roberts works his chain saw so that in a matter of minutes the head of a raccoon appears. A few hours later that same wood chunk will be sawed into an art piece showing a raccoon sitting inside the hollow of a tree trunk.
Before using a chain saw to create art, Roberts carved hunting decoys, a tedious and time-consuming task. He also once operated a taxidermy shop. But 15 years ago, Roberts saw somebody doing chainsaw sculpting, then went home and tried it for himself.
At first he did it just for fun. Friends stated buying his sculptures and then friends of friends were buying them. Before l9ong, woodcarving became a full-time business.
Roberts' pieces are now in homes and yards in "every state in the union," he said. A store in Alaska buys dozens of his pieces every year, selling them to tourists. Some of his work, which sells for $50 to $1,200 depending on how much time it took to create, is even in foreign countries.
In all his years of woodcarving, Roberts said he has never made a mistake. "I just redesign them from time to time." He also said none of his pieces have ever been perfect - there's always something he finds that could have been better.
For the last couple of weeks, Roberts created and sold hi woodcarvings from the parking lot of a Palmdale Boulevard hardware store, a shop that happens to sell his favorite brand of chainsaw.
Roberts was packing up his unsold carvings, sweeping up the sawdust, and heading north Saturday. He was stopping at a Northern California university to carve a 6-foot-high bear to match the one he made there a few years back.
Then, Roberts, who travels his wife, Ginny, will head home to Klamath Falls, which they left at the start of winter.
"I've got a house and shop in Oregon," he said. "It's not like I'm totally vagrant."
The couple have spent most of their travel time this year in the tiny Arizona town of Quartzsite, where Roberts sells his artworks to the hordes of people who come there for the annual gem and mineral show.
Palmdale became a stopover for Roberts eight years ago when his daughter was stationed at nearby Edwards Air Force Base. Although his daughter long ago returned to Oregon, Roberts continues to come to Palmdale.
He figures he'll return before the winter holidays or next spring.
"That's the neat part of this job," he said, "You can go where the weather suits you."
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