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Artist wields his chain saw like a brush

Mike Dunham
Derrick Stanton at a previous Christmas Village show.
OLYA SEMIRYAZHKO photo
"Back Away Slowly," a bear sculpture, stands guard at the door of Stanton's gift shop/gallery on Kenai Spur Highway.
Photo courtesy DERRICK STANTON
"The Run," Derrick Stanton's celebration of salmon, took first place in Soldotna's "Saw Fest" in 2008.
Photo courtesy DERRICK STANTON
Stanton's whimsical depiction of a boy riding a halibut like a surfboard won second place at the chain saw carving competition in Seldovia in 2009.
Photo courtesy DERRICK STANTON
Stanton made this archway for the Seldovia waterfront this summer.
Photo courtesy DERRICK STANTON
'Giddy Up!" took first place and the people's choice award in the 2009 "Saw Fest" in Soldotna.
Photo courtesy DERRICK STANTON

Meet Derrick Stanton -- a regular Chagall with a chain saw.

Not every art connoisseur warms to sculpture churned out by a two-cycle engine. But plenty of other folks love it, enough to support an active army of hobbyists and commercial carvers. From the amount of stock one sees, it appears that at least some readers will shortly get a chunk of it as a present.

In this genre, Stanton stands out. If you travel much around Alaska, you've probably seen his work -- the bears holding greeting signs at the major lodges in Denali Park, the waterfront archway in Seldovia.

Seldovia hosts a chain saw sculpture competition each summer. Stanton's "Prospector" was the people's choice in 2008. His depiction of a boy surfing on a halibut took second place in 2009.

He's also been a regular award winner at the annual Town of the Living Trees "Saw Fest" in Soldotna, taking first place with his complex salute to salmon, "The Run," in 2008. Another, more comical, salmon -- one mounted by a cowboy -- titled "Giddy Up!" won first place and the people's choice award the following year. This year his more conventional bear, "Back Away Slowly," now displayed at his Kenai Gift Shop, took third.

If you're thinking that any 7-year resident of the Kenai, especially one raised in Oregon, is a born chain sawyer, you're wrong.

"I never used one until I came up here," Stanton said.

He met men with chain saws as a result of a business he started making furniture out of logs. One of them liked to use his machine to do sculptures.

"He showed me how to rough out a bear," Stanton recalled. "He knocked one out very quickly. Then he handed me the chain saw and said, 'Now it's your turn.' And I said. 'How do you start it?' "

The chain saw was "an unknown tool," he said. "I got past the learning curve after creating some timely firewood."

Stanton mostly uses Husqvarnas. He has four different saws in different sizes. For detail work he uses one with a 12-inch bar and a tiny "dime" tip.

"All of my work is done in wood harvested locally here in Alaska," he said. "I most often use dry beetle-kill spruce. It's abundant, dry, usually colorful -- and it helps take care of a local problem."

The art side of chain sawmanship, "pieces that are just pleasing to look at," occupies about half of his time. The other half goes into residential or commercial work, architectural carving, signs and -- true to his roots -- furniture. He said he had done "countless" commissions, mostly for lodges and private residences.

In August, he opened the Derrick Stanton Log Works gift shop and gallery on the Kenai Spur Highway.

It's in the parking lot of the Spur Lodge and 406 Restaurant -- across the street from the Kenai Arby's for visitors.

In the summertime, people can stop to watch him carving at that location, check out his inventory and maybe place an order.

Next weekend, however, Anchorage folks won't need to travel so far. Stanton will be at the Christmas Village gift show in the Dena'ina Center.

The show includes a reported 200 vendors or more, offering books, ornaments, jewelry, wearable art and a whole lot more. Admission is free.

Stanton is offering an extra reason for stopping in.

"I will be giving away one free door prize to the shopper that gets picked by the show staff," he said.

But everyone's taste is different. What if you decide that a chiseled bear or spruce salmon isn't for you? Or if your spouse orders it out of the Scandinavian Contemporary or Queen Anne living room?

Not a problem.

The artist, contacted by phone during a recent cold snapped, noted one practical application for his work that you just can't get from a piece of porcelain. The fireplace.

"Even now, my mistakes are keeping me warm as we talk," he said.

Find Mike Dunham online at adn.com/contact/mdunham or call 257-4332.


By MIKE DUNHAM
mdunham@adn.com