Chain Saw Craftsmen Are On The Cutting Edge Of Art

Woodbutchery Turns Logs Into Fantasy

June 30, 1991|By Staff report

TANEYTOWN — Hobart Reitan's sculpting tools may look and sound bizarre, but he talks about them with the confidence of an accomplished artisan.

"It's just a bigger jackknife," said Reitan, 54, one of a group of Carroll County men who use chain saws to carve wood.

Reitan, his cousin, Terry Boquist, 35, and their friends are working in an art form that has migrated east from the Minnesota timber country.

It takes Boquist just a few minutes to coax a majestic 3-foot eagle with furled wings from what had been an ordinary weathered pine log.

Using an electric rasp, Reitan, a native of North Home, Minn., who has been carving for 15 years, cuts details into the headboard of a huge medieval fantasy bed.

On the headboard, an armored knight on horseback is approaching a turreted castle Camelot. By no coincidence, the knight's bearded face bears a strong resemblance to Reitan.

"That's his signature. There are about a hundred pieces around the country with Hobart's face on them," Boquist said.

Nearby,Scott Crocker, 28, used a narrow-tipped chain saw to score detail onhis 8-foot statue of a Plains Indian in full war dress with feather bonnet and lance.

Crocker grew up in Vermont's Green Mountains andworked as a journeyman carpenter before meeting the cousins at a Renaissance Festival in Texas five years ago.

"I had never used a chain saw before, but once I tried it I was hooked," Crocker said.

"He's really good and he learned quickly," said Boquist, of International Falls, Minn.

The artisans have about 15 chain saws of differentsizes.

They turn to rotary burrs in heavy-duty drills to cut small details and a rotary whip sander to smooth the carvings.

In finishing a piece, they stroke an acetylene torch back and forth to char the wood surface, scrub it with a brass brush to create contrast between high and low carved areas, and coat it with polyurethane sealer.

"When we get done there's very little to indicate that a chain sawwas ever used to carve the wood," Boquist said.

A pile of white cedar logs, hauled from Vermont, forms the rough stock for their work;they do use other kinds of wood, including pine and sycamore.

"Nothing too hard; it doesn't carve right," he said.

Fantasy figures -- dragons, gargoyles and wizards -- are among the most popular subjects.

As a result, the carvers do much of their business at Renaissance Festivals around the country.

In fact, Boquist said, they only moved to Taneytown last summer after years of a gypsy life, settingup shop at one festival after another. The fairs run on weekends; weekdays, they work on figures commissioned by fairgoers, he said.

The three men call themselves Woodbutchery. Their work ranges in pricefrom about $100 for a small piece to $15,000 or more for a major work.

Most of the 12,000-odd pieces they have carved are big.

Examples include:

* A 100-foot-long bar for the New Orleans World's Fair.

* Beer-guzzling kangaroos for the fair's Australia pavilion.

* A 22-foot totem pole carved with cameos from U.S. history for Camp Seneca in Gaithersburg.

Reitan and Boquist said they got into wood-carving with chain saws almost by accident.

"I saw somebody on television news doing this work and we decided to try," Reitan said.

"The first things we did were pretty awful, but they sold," Boquist said. "We found people would pay us for doing this and we were having all the fun."

Then they discovered a Renaissance Festival in Minnesota "and we felt we could fit into that milieu, and we've been doing it ever since.

"There's a lot of wood out there; we decided toknock the hell out of it, and if it works, OK," Boquist said.

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