Art in reverse

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Over the summer, Monica Tiffany learned the art form of chainsaw carving. She’s since created over 20 carvings, including Gus the bear, who will greet patrons at McGregor Mercantile. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

“When I started, I didn’t even have a chainsaw,” Monica joked. “Now, I have six. There are so many different bars you can get. I never thought I’d be so excited to buy tools.” (Photo by Audrey Posten)

Bears are Monica’s primary focus, although she’s begun to expand into other designs. After she blocks out the bear’s head with a large chainsaw, she uses smaller chainsaws to add the details. (Submitted photo)

Painting or staining the bears is what really brings them to life, Monica said. The final step—what Monica calls the “Aha moment”—is when she adds the bear’s eyes, which are made of shiny, black marbles. (Submitted photo)

Chainsaw carving goes from hobby to business

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

To most people, a piece of wood is simply that: a piece of wood—destined for the campfire or fodder for the wood chipper. But to Monica Tiffany, it’s a blank canvas, ready to be turned into a work of art.

The McGregor native, who owns Preferred Painters and McGregor Mercantile with her husband, Paul, is a chainsaw carver. She learned the art form over the summer, while on vacation.

“I’ve always had a love for art—drawing, painting, sketching,” she shared. “This had been in the back of my mind for a long time.”

A beginner class taught her the fundamentals: safety, how to start a piece and some of the basic cuts. Participants created bears, one of the most popular chainsaw carving subjects. Inspired, Monica continued in that thread when she returned home, crafting her own bears.

Although the idea came from the class, Monica said her bears differ from those formed by her fellow classmates or even her instructor.

“Chainsaw carving is an art form you take and make your own,” she explained.

Monica said pine is a preferred wood for chainsaw carving, as it’s both accessible and softer, making cutting easier. The wood is cut fairly fresh, so she lets each piece dry for a week or two before she begins carving.

“It’ll crack, so I just let it do its thing,” she said.

From there, she envisions what each piece of wood will become.

“In my mind, I know what object I’m going to make,” she said. “First, I do some proportions and mark the log. Then, I start from the top and go down.”

The head and ears develop first.

“I get it blocked out,” Monica described. “There’s no detail, but the shape is there.”

Monica utilizes a bigger chainsaw for this step, then switches to smaller chainsaws to add the details.

“When I started, I didn’t even have a chainsaw,” she joked. “Now, I have six. There are so many different bars you can get. I never thought I’d be so excited to buy tools.”

Once she’s finished carving, Monica sands the bear, smoothing out any issues. Then, it’s time for a coat of paint or stain.

“When you start painting, it’s when it really comes to life,” she said.

The final step—what Monica calls the “Aha moment”—is when she adds the bear’s eyes, which are made of shiny, black marbles.

The bears are also sealed, allowing them to sit outside.

Monica likes that chainsaw carving is a different art form, prompting her to “think backward.”

“When you’re drawing or painting, you’re adding to the paper,” she explained. “This is almost like reverse art; you’re taking things away.”

Her enthusiasm, and talent, hasn’t gone unnoticed.

One day, Monica was practicing outside McGregor Mercantile when someone drove by and asked if the bear she was carving was for sale. Not long after, another passerby stopped. Soon, Monica had an order of six bears to fill. Other orders came in during the holidays.

She now has over 20 carvings under her belt. Most of them are bears, spawning the name of her new business, Grizzly’s Chainsaw Carving.

When McGregor Mercantile opens on Thursday, March 1, for the first time since the July 19 tornado, Monica’s carvings will be a large part of the store’s collection.

Patrons will even be greeted by one of Monica’s latest creations, a black bear affectionately dubbed “Gus.” Standing nearly to Monica’s shoulder,  decked out in a painted-on Benjamin Moore T-shirt and toting a paint can and brush, Gus is like the unofficial store mascot. The tree he originated from fell near the Dr. Smith Child Care Center during the July 19 tornado, but was salvaged by McGregor arborist Dan Keyes, of Keyes Tree Service.

Gus is not just Monica’s biggest carving project, to date. His backstory also makes him one of the carvings closest to her heart.

Even though the tree is gone, “it’s still a part of McGregor,” she said.

Monica is already working to expand her carving business. The bears have become more detailed, their paws holding wooden signs and objects, like a fish or a slice of watermelon. She’s open to anything.

She’s also trying new carving designs, such as an eagle and a fish.

“I’ve had requests for everything from Herky the Hawk to a raccoon,” she said. “There are all kinds of things I can dig into.”

Monica also hopes to perform carving demonstrations, sharing the art form she’s come to love. In April, she’ll also begin chalk paint classes again.

“This is what I’m passionate about,” she said. “I feel like, with the carving, the paint and supplies and the decorating, that’s my thing, that McGregor Mercantile is heading in the right direction.” 

In March and April, McGregor Mercantile will be open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday through Saturday. In May, the store will be open Monday through Saturday.

To learn more about Monica’s chainsaw carving, visit her Facebook page, “Grizzly’s Chainsaw Carving.”

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