At a new shop located on the main drag of Alpena, the vrrrrmm, vrrrrmm, vrrrrmm of a chainsaw pierces the air and then hums into a chunk of wood as Kay Jackson carves one of her works of art. Wood chips slice through the scent of sawdust and campfire. The log is transformed into a bear only Jackson can see as she cuts, shaves and slices.
Jackson and her husband Roy opened their chainsaw carving business earlier this year. While she mostly creates bears of all sizes, her shop is also filled with animals such as fish, beavers, and pigs. The majority of her work is three dimensional, but she does have a few two-dimensional pieces as well.
Six days a week, you’ll find Jackson firing up a chainsaw, and attacking a piece of wood until it becomes a detailed sculpture of an animal. She’s been chainsaw wood carving for about 18 years, after discovering her calling while living in Washington State. She made friends with a chainsaw carver and fell in love with the craft. Still friends today, Jackson said her carving buddy is Dan Whited, a well-known figure among their art.
image“He is one of the best carvers ever,” she added. “He carves with me two or three times a year.”
After living 12 years in Washington, the Jacksons moved to Branson, Missouri. The couple stayed there for 12 years as well, raising six children. Their youngest just graduated from high school, freeing them to choose another place to live.
“It’s a good move. They’re so happy to have us here,” Jackson said of the folks in Alpena. “We love it here.” The business is located in a 105-year-old building that Roy fell in love with when they drove through the town from Branson to Eureka Springs, where Jackson took part in an annual carving event. She carves outdoors on the property adjacent to the building.
The lot is filled with logs, large and small. She cuts sections off of them to get the stump height she desires. Jackson said she carves in yellow pine, red cedar, maple, black walnut, ash, sycamore, cherry, and elm. Most of her wood comes from local people. “Tree trimming guys come and sell it to me,” she said. One man, using a bulldozer, brought her large trees downed in last winter’s ice storm. Also on the lot is a fire pit that smolders with the remnants of wood cut from her sculptures.
Most of her clients find Jackson because they drive by her location. A man from Fayetteville spotted her new shop while driving through Alpena and ended up bringing her two logs, large in girth, from his property for her to carve into razorback-style hogs. Passers-by stop and peruse her art - some just looking, some buying - all day long.
Jackson said that no carvings are ever exactly the same. “When people buy my stuff, it’s individual. I can’t make the same piece twice,” she said. “It doesn’t come from a machine. It’s from my head and my hands.”
Only chainsaws are used to carve each piece. She uses no hand tools, although she does sometimes use a sander to smooth an area. She explained that she looks at a piece of wood and asks herself what she can put in it. “I like creating new things. I like the challenge of ‘Can I do this? How good can I make that look?’”
Jackson is also modest about her ability. “I just think it’s a blessing that God gave me the talent to take care of my children,” she said.
She is one of about 15 female carvers in the nation. In 2006 she won a big competition in Michigan competing against more than 50 carvers. She has placed in other competitions in the United States as well.
“I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve seen a lot of carving,” Jackson said. She has traveled the country carving at demonstration events, festivals, and fairs. She even took a trip to Canada last year. “I’m not traveling anymore,” Jackson added.
Born and raised in Louisiana, Jackson is French Cajun, which explains the name of her Web site, http://www.cajuncarver.com. It’s full of photographs of her work, which aren’t the only things that get smiles at her shop.
Her husband is in his element talking and joking with the customers. The pair makes an entertaining duo. Ask Roy if he carves and his answer is usually, “She makes me.”
The Jacksons can be contacted by phone at 417-230-7314