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Artist hangs up his chain saw.

Byline: Karen McCowan The Register-Guard

OAKRIDGE - Few motorists passing "Carvings by Colp" at the west end of town the past 14 years knew that the man selling carved bears, fish and horses here was a pioneer and patriarch in the world of chain saw art.

Now Don Colp, 74, is closing the retail operation, a former Oakridge auto showroom, with a weekend auction of his work - and his collection of antique cars, chain saws and other logging equipment.

The lanky Colp earned his living for nearly 40 years by using a roaring, snaggle-toothed power tool to transform blocks of wood into Western-themed sculptures that fetched as much as $36,000.

When he looks through his collection of vintage saws for a 1960s Skil saw like the one he first used to experiment with carving, he comes up with a shockingly blunt instrument. It's hard to imagine how he could turn out details such as the hair of a horse's mane with the saw blade's rounded tip.

Colp said he teamed up 30 years ago with another Canadian carver to design a sharper tip for such detail work. "It's called The Original Carving Bar today," he said. "Now we have a real serious set of tools - we run 15 chain saws and many die grinders and bits."

Colp was running his own logging operation and lumber mill in Alberta when he first heard that an Austrian immigrant in British Columbia had begun carving large sculptures with a chain saw. Colp, who'd inherited a love of whittling from his father, decided to give the idea a try himself.

"I showed up to the mill an hour early and carved each morning," he recalled, holding a weathered hand about 2 feet off the ground to indicate the height of his first creation, a jumping fish.

He had a knack for the craft. People began to buy his work, and in 1972 he decided to quit the mill and pursue carving full-time. He eventually would be sponsored by three different chain saw companies - Canada-based Frontier for four years; Homelite for seven years and Pull-On for 17 years.

He and his wife, Barbara, raised three boys as they traveled the country from show to show, where he carved before audiences and sold the results. In 1974, Colp logged 100,000 miles on the road - 60,000 by air and 40,000 driving with his family in tow.

The power tools make relatively quick work of out-sized carvings, he said.

"I can do a horse with a saddle and all that stuff, the detailing and the reins, in about 12 hours," he said.

All three of his sons followed him into the carving business. Mark, of Lakeport, Calif., competes professionally as a member of the Echo Chainsaws Carving Team and is a winner of the West Coast competition named for his father, the Don J. Colp Championship.

While Colp has received little local media coverage since settling his business in Oakridge in 1992, he doesn't feel that he's been snubbed.

"We've been on over 100 TV shows, from `What's My Line' to `The Guinness Book of World Records,' ' he said.

While the Colps will no longer have the tourism exposure that comes with a storefront along a busy highway, he won't be completely retired. Colp plans to still do some carving - and selling - from the couple's Westfir home.

ART & TOOL AUCTION What: Chain saw art, antique tools, collectibles When: Preview today 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.; auction today, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Where: 47409 Highway 58, Oakridge Information: (800) 573-8677, 782-4874
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Title Annotation:Lifestyle; A pioneer in this wood-carving craft is shutting down his business
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 4, 2006
Words:609
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