Carving out a landmark

With the help of a chain saw and a good neighbor, an artist turns a dying tree into something bear-ly recognizable.

Baltimore ...or Less

September 26, 1999|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,Sun Staff

BLACKS CORNER -- Along Black Schoolhouse Road in northern Carroll County, past an ocean of corn on the left, just around a bend, something strange comes into view.

It's a bear. Staring you in the face. Even smiling at you. Just standing there. Right there in Charles King Jr.'s front yard.

OK, he's made of wood. But 8-foot-tall animals -- even fake ones -- aren't exactly common in these parts. So passing drivers whose curiosities are sufficiently piqued pull into the King family driveway -- a handful do each week -- to ask about the bear.

They want nothing more than to hear his story.

King wants nothing more than to tell it.

It goes like this:

A 58-year-old retired cable maintenance worker at Bell Atlantic, King was in his yard two years ago chopping the branches off his dying 30-foot ash tree. Just then, Terry Boquist -- a local artist who happens to be well known for carving wood into animal forms using chain saws -- pulled up in his van. From this meeting would come what King likes to call one of northern Carroll County's most-visited tourist spots.

Their conversation went like this:

Boquist: "What are you going to do with that tree?"

King: "I don't know." (He had every intention of chopping it down, King recalls, but Boquist didn't seem like the type who would want to hear that a tree was just being chopped down).

Boquist: "That would be a perfect spot for a bear."

King: (Speechless. Perplexed. People don't often come by offering to turn his trees into animals).

Boquist offered a deal: If King left him enough of a trunk, and would put up some cash, he would come by with a chain saw and turn the trunk into a bear. (Were he commissioned such a project, Boquist says, the cost ordinarily would be $1,500-$2,000.)

King took his business card and said he'd think about it.

He did, and those who know King and his wife, Arlene, aren't surprised that they now have a bear in their yard. When the couple celebrated their first wedding anniversary in 1986 at the VFW in Littlestown, Pa., they received a teddy bear as a gift. They've been collecting all sorts of bear-aphernalia -- stuffed bears, knickknack bears, bear calendars, bear candleholders -- ever since.

Boquist, a Minnesota native -- his art form was born in that state's timberlands -- has been carving wood for 25 years. He has lived in Carroll County since 1990, carving out of a wood shop in the backwoods near the King residence.

Boquist's philosophy is simple: When a tree dies, don't let its remains go to waste.

"You can turn it into a stump, or you can turn it into something," Boquist says. The 10,000 "somethings" Boquist has carved include bears, dragons, lumberjacks and wolves. He carved the wooden eagle that graces the lawn of Terra Rubra, Francis Scott Key's birthplace in Carroll County.

"Wizards are the way big thing," the artist confides in a hefty Minnesota accent. His work, including a carved bed frame valued at $20,000, is on view at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, currently taking place on weekends in Crownsville.

The artist says the Kings' bear, though, has a particular place in his portfolio, since it is so close to his shop.

"Most of the time, the last time I see [a carving] is when I finish him," Boquist says. "This one, I get to enjoy with everyone else."

It took Charles King several months before he finally decided to call Boquist back last June and ask for the bear. Because the men are neighbors, King received a big discount from Boquist, but neither wanted to say just how much he paid.

So the Kings invited 50 friends over for beer, burgers and hot dogs and a "tree-carving party." Boquist explains this in a manner suggesting such an event is normal among chain-saw woodcarvers.

And the artist put on a show that day, carving a face (smiling, since the Kings ordered their bear "friendly" instead of "ferocious"), fur-covered paws, muscular legs, even a tiny cub, who hides between the legs of the larger creature.

"I didn't know he was going to do that," King says. "That little guy -- he's really cute."

During the bear's first year in the yard, a few cars a day would stop and curious folks would ask about him. (King is pretty sure it's a him, though he's never given him a name.) These days only a handful drop by each week.

But the bear has become an area landmark. Neighbors along sparsely populated Black Schoolhouse Road use him to give directions to dinner guests. And when they order pizza from Domino's in nearby Taneytown, they are often asked not for cross streets, but how close they live to the bear.

For King, having a sculpture with deep roots in his yard is fitting. His family has farmed in northern Carroll County for generations. And he has stayed here, preferring this area to a place like Baltimore where, he says, people are "too rushed."

Symbolism aside, the Kings say having the bear standing sentry along their driveway gives them a hard-to-describe pleasure.

"It was a lot of money," Mrs. King says. "But we thought we'd get a lot of enjoyment out of it. So, why not spend it?"

"You can turn it into a stump, or you can turn it into something."

Terry Boquist, on what to do with a dying tree

Pub Date: 09/26/99

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