Story and photos by RODNEY D. BOAM
Some artists use a fine brush to oil paint beautiful scenery or portraits. Other artists might use mud and a wheel to make ceramic pots or maybe a hammer and chisel to sculpt out of limestone the face of a notable person.
For Stephen Moser of Fairview, it is the sound of a revved up Stihl or Husqvarna chainsaw. The sawdust flies as a log or stump takes the shape of a bear or some other animal.
Chainsaw art is a fast growing art that combines the modern chainsaw with the ancient art of woodcarving. It’s been around since the 50s.
For some 10 years Moser has been giving logs personalities. He is no stranger to working on wood. He was a carpenter and built homes for 45 years.
“I saw some wood bear sculptures in Salmon and asked my brother Ed to take some photos of them,” Moser said. “I came home and gave it a try.”
He started to make them for family members and friends. Moser also made some for some businesses.
One bear is in the Bear River Publishing plant in the industrial park in Preston and another is an armadillo that can be found in the Texas Roadhouse in Logan. His handiwork can also be found in a handful of states outside of Idaho and some in Canada. There are plenty of the sculptures around the county.
He will make as few as two bears a month or as many as ten depending on the call for them. The average sculpture takes an hour and a half to two hours and requires a couple of fuel tank reloads.
When the animal he is creating looks finished, in his eyes, he stains it with linseed oil. Because they are handmade, no two bears are the same.
“They all are pretty close but none of them are alike,” Moser said. “If someone wanted to keep one in their house it would need to be varnished.”
He sells his sculptures for $125 to $200 depending on the size. His wife Launa is his judge. She tells him if they are good or not.
He has carved fish, birds, dogs and moose, but his favorite is the bear.
Moser is like many artists; it’s not a business, he mostly carves when he is in the mood or when people specifically ask for them. He still does it more for pleasure.
“When we are camping and he goes out to get logs for the fire, he starts to carve the logs into bears before he throws them into the fire,” his daughter Courtney Webster said. “He has fun trying to look at a log and seeing what he can do with it to make it into something unique.”
Someone brought him a picture of their dog that had died and wanted him to carve a sculpture of it. He carved it for them.
Although the bears are his forte, he also builds log furniture with his saws. Moser skillfully cuts the logs, planes, sands, stains and polishes the tops until they shine like glass.
Chainsaw art began as early as the 1950s, but really took off in the 80s. The art form is considered an extension of woodcarving. Today the chainsaw sculpture is an international art form with competitions and organization that span the globe.
In the Moser yard more of his handiwork is evident with benches and chairs made of tree trunks and limbs.
Of his four children, the oldest son, Jaaron, is the only other family member that carves bears.
The money received from selling the bears usually gets used for fishing or sometimes for Christmas presents.
This story is sponsored by The REAL Preston Idaho Classifieds.
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