Between the Kootenai Country Montana Chainsaw Carving Championship and the Ron Adamson’s “The Libby Chainsaw Event,” Libby was revved up for some world-class art and even international exchange over the weekend.
Adrian “Bois” Cabrera said that he started as a toy maker in Argentina, and picked up chainsaw carving from talking to other artisans at craft fairs.
That was only about five years ago. Last year, he toured Europe, from shows in Russia and England to carving a room in the famous IceHotel in Sweden. This year, the Kootenai Country Montana Chainsaw Carving Championship brought him to Libby as part of a tour that will end in Vermont before he returns to Argentina for the summer carving season there.
“I never thought that I could travel around the world with a chainsaw,” Cabrera said.
He still makes toys in the small French town — “Bois” is French for wood — in Argentina where he is from, but for months a year, he travels the world with his chainsaw.
Eighteen years ago, Dawna Ceriani was an accountant with a husband, Tom, who was taking an interest in chainsaw carving. Now she is full time, and though the two still carve together, she is the one who has the business making commissioned pieces, she said.
But it’s still a favorite activity for the couple, she said. This year, when it came time to choose coming to the carving championship in Libby or going on a cruise for their 20-year anniversary, the competition was the easy choice.
“A lot of these carvers here I had seen and competed and against, but there’s quite a few that I haven’t,” she said. “So I’m just really excited to come, meet them, and be a part — this is such a big competition to be a part of.”
Japanese carver Hikaru Kodama speaks little English, but his competitors had plenty to say about and on behalf of the skilled artisan.
Kodama has been carving for around 16 years, he said, and travels the world competing in part just to be around the other artists.
John Hayes, from Ireland, said that Kodama was in Libby this past weekend because it was where all the best chainsaw carvers in the world would be.
“You have to have him here,” Hayes said. “He’s the best of the best.”
Though Kodama did not win of any of the event prizes, several of the other artists pointed him out as a personal favorite.
Abby Peterson, from Kentucky, said chainsaw carving is very popular in Japan, where they emphasize mastering the chainsaw before using any other tools, such as sanders and grinders, to refine the work.
Pointing out the intricate details of Kodama’s work, Peterson said he does 90 percent or more of the work with only a chainsaw.
“Hikaru is the best human figure chainsaw carver in the world,” Peterson said. “There’s guys who can hand carve as good as him, the human form. But for him to do in two and a half days, what he did, it’s pretty amazing.”
From artists who discovered power tools — such as Alex Pricob who studied art at university in his homeland of Moldova — to power tool users who discovered art — Hayes said he began as a carpenter watching chainsaw carving videos online — there is no single path to chainsaw carving that the artists in Libby this past weekend share.
Yet, a repeated theme the artists mentioned is the things they share now, from their tools to tips to love of the craft.
“There’s a mutual respect down from the very, very best guys, down to the guys who are trying to become better, because they all empty the tank,” Hayes said. “They all give it everything.”
A friendly experience
Another common sentiment among the artists at both events is that they’d love to come back. Pricob said that he found the people here friendly and genuinely interested in the art. And it didn’t hurt that his art sold well.
But he said that just the reception that the artists were given and the professionalism with which they were met makes everything go that much more smoothly and pleasantly.
Down the street, Ferne, B.C. native Michael Arnold Penny said he had to travel to Ontario to meet Libby’s native son, Ron Adamson.
The two were at the annual Carv-a-Palooza event in Muirkirk, Ontario together, and when Adamson decided to put on a chainsaw event, he invited Penny.
It was the first time in this part of Montana for Penny and his wife, Isabel, he said. They were deeply impressed by how friendly everyone was who they met — whether at the event or out around the town.
But the atmosphere off Highway 2 where Adamson had his event fit well with a welcome and inviting theme.
Julie Zimmerman, a carver from Missoula who has been working with a chainsaw for about three years, had some misgivings initially.
She has carved in public before, but only at events where there weren’t any other carvers, let alone these ones with the level of skill she saw this weekend, she said. “Oh, I was scared to death.”
But, by the end of the four days, she was relaxed and enjoying herself, she said.
“It was a lot of fun, like one big, family group,” she said. “They just accepted me right in, like one of them.”