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Art with teeth.

Byline: Derek Maiolo The Register-Guard

Even though Jay Peppard had never made a wood carving in his life, when he saw a flier for Blue River's annual McKenzie River Chainsaw and Arts Festival in 2013, he thought his upbringing in the lumber industry gave him enough experience to take a whack at it.

"I'm from a logging family, and I bought my first chain saw when I was 12," he said, describing woodworking as heritage more so than a craft.

It did not take long for him to realize that a lack of experience did not make carving at the festival any less fun.

"As soon as I met all the carvers and saw how willing everybody was to share secrets and information, I fell in love with it," he said.

Peppard is one of the 12 woodcarvers who will showcase their skills at the 2017 McKenzie River Chainsaw and Arts Festival that runs July 21-23 at the McKenzie River track and field.

While many of those carvers are professionals, descended from generations of wood artisans, Peppard's history with woodwork is in the construction industry. He works full-time for Green Ridge Construction building frames for homes, which doesn't leave a lot of time to hone his art.

"Every time I want to carve, my workload starts piling up," he said.

That hasn't stopped Peppard from spending long hours sculpting tree trunks into three-dimensional animals like salmon, owls and bears that appear ready to burst from their barked bases. His most recent carving is a 4-foot rendition of a customer's pet wolf.

In order to sculpt his carvings, Peppard begins by cutting large, flat surfaces out of a trunk. He then uses a crayon to sketch the outline of the future sculpture, such as the face and ears of a wolf. Peppard often will use a technique called merchandising, carving a chunk off the log and attaching it to another part.

"Anything you take away, you can put right back on somewhere else," he said.

With merchandising, a carver can transform a 7-foot log into a 15-foot sculpture.

Once the cuts are made, Peppard will use an electric grinder or sander to smooth out the saw marks.

At competitive carving tournaments, like the annual Oregon Divisional Chainsaw Carving Championship that was held in Reedsport in June, judges evaluate carves based on the use of negative space. The more that artists can take away from a log, sometimes passing through the wood entirely, the better they will perform.

Because judges especially favor an artist's ability to model the human body, Peppard sometimes will use figurines to visualize the curves and posture he will need to replicate on wood.

"If you can do the human form, that adds a ton of credibility to your carving as an artist," he said.

Peppard is considered a semi-professional woodcarver. In order to reach professional status, he needs to take first place at one of the competitions like the one in Reedsport. With less than four years of carving under his belt, he said that he is taking his time before pursuing that title.

"You get thrown right in with the professionals, and you're stuck competing with the best of the best," he said.

He prefers festivals like the one in Blue River that do not judge carvers' work, where he can develop his craft and learn from the pros without the pressure of competing.

Becoming even a semi-professional carver isn't easy, especially on the wallet. Peppard works with seven chain saws, each of which costs between $700 and $1,200. Separate specialty blades that attach to the body of the chain saws can cost an additional $400. These range in size, and the tip of Peppard's smallest blade is no larger than a dime, useful for detail work such as water lines or texturing.

Then there is the power gouge, an attachment that gives fine curves to sculptures. Because professional-grade gouges are only made in Germany, buying one in the United States costs $750. After a few years accumulating carving tools, the numbers add up.

"I'm rolling down the road with $10,000 in chain saws," Peppard said.

Despite the steep startup expenses, Peppard said that making a living as a woodcarver is more secure than as a struggling new painter trying to get a gallery show.

"There's no way you can starve in this industry," he said. "There's an insatiable demand for carves."

At the McKenzie River Chainsaw and Arts Festival, carvers will complete daily quick carves in less than two hours. Peppard said that each of these carvings will sell for $175 to $375. World champions like Bob King, who also will be at the festival, can sell theirs for up to $2,500.

Carvers create larger main carves during the course of the weekend that will be auctioned off on Sunday.

Peppard's first main carve for the festival in 2013 was a 7-foot bumblebee that he later donated to the McKenzie River Lavender farm.

That sparked the idea of using his work as a woodcarver to further his work as a wildlife conservationist, and pollinators in particular. Habitat encroachment, disease and pesticides have ravaged populations of bees and butterflies. According to the National Resources Defense Council, 42 percent of honeybee colonies in the United States died in 2015, yet 90 percent of the world's flowering plants need insects for pollination.

In addition to the bumblebee, Peppard donated a 500-pound Monarch butterfly carving to the Xerces Society, an invertebrate conservation group. He also gifts carvings to the Oregon State Scholarship Fund in Forestry, which then are auctioned off in San Diego to benefit sustainable logging research.

"Even though I'm from a logging family, I like to see ethical harvesting practices," he said.

Considering the amount of support that he has received from the community of carvers, he felt it only right to use his skills to make a positive difference.

"A lot of pros have helped me, so anything I can give back to the carving world, I'm happy to do," he said. EVENT PREVIEW McKenzie River Chainsaw and Arts Festival When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 21-22 and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 23. Where: McKenzie River track and field, 51236 Blue River Drive, Blue River Admission: $3, free for 12 years old or younger Information: mckenzietrack.com/CAF

Follow Derek on Twitter @derek_maiolo. Email derek.maiolo@registerguard.com.
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Title Annotation:Visual Arts
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 13, 2017
Words:1073
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