Back on the chain gang: Whittle the Wood returns
For the Craig press
After a largely quiet 2020, the sweet sounds of chainsaws are gracing the grounds of Loudy-Simpson Park once again.
Whittle the Wood Rendezvous returns this week for its 21st year of bringing Craig residents and tourist crowds alike a unique experience, as chainsaw woodcarvers work their magic to create pieces of art.
Like many festivals during the past summer, Whittle the Wood shut down operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The halt was disheartening for Craig Parks & Recreation director Ryan Dennison, who had just taken the reins of Craig’s premier event earlier in the year.
Still, that gave him plenty of time to consider the return of the Rendezvous.
For instance, the selection of logs was already good to go, purchased in early 2020 from a Walden supplier.
“We’ve been using him for a couple years, but he’s retired, so we’ll be on the hunt for someone else for that,” Dennison said.
Dennison said he inherited a “well-oiled machine” from predecessor Dave Pike, who founded the event more than two decades ago.
Dennison has strived to make the return smooth.
“We always want to put our best foot forward to showcase the event,” he said. “We want to do our due diligence, so to speak, so that all the work we’ve put into it is a good effort for the public.”
Booking the usual gang of carvers was a bit tricky; with the ongoing return to normalcy after COVID, many artists who have attended the event in the past had a much fuller schedule.
As a result, this year’s festival will feature six carvers rather than the dozen that have filled out the park in previous years.
But, with half as many competitors, they’ll just have to make twice as much noise.
The four-day carving competition sees carvers slice into a stump and keep making cuts until they’ve created an animal.
Or a person.
Or a landscape.
Or something entirely within their own imagination.
While the end results that are lacquered and painted to perfection by Saturday are a sight to behold, crowds are generally in and out each day to watch the process step by step.
That spectator sensation is part of what Jim Valentine loves about the festival as he provides a performance for viewers.
Valentine is in his sixth year coming to WTW from Salt Lake City.
While many across the globe had their livelihood slowed considerably during the pandemic, he took the opportunity to get creative and catch up on commissions.
“I was pretty busy during all that,” he said. “Everybody was stuck at home and thought, ‘Hey, we gotta get that log carved!’ One of my favorites I’ve done this year was a life-sized tiger on top of a log with three little cubs peeking out of the base. I called it ‘Don’t Mess with Mama.’”
Still, being back in Craig is a welcome feeling.
“I’m thrilled to be back here,” Valentine said. “I’m hoping to see that everybody who’s been locked down for so long, that it’s time to go back and see a bunch of carvers do their thing.”
While most of this year’s carvers traveled from Colorado or Utah, Nate Hall hails from Lincoln, Nebraska, a drive along Interstate 80 through Wyoming before going south, that wasn’t without some stress.
“If you go by Google, it was 11 hours, but it was 12 hours for me,” he laughed. “It doesn’t account for all the winding around the mountains.”
Hall took on his first woodcarving competition ever during the 2019 Whittle the Wood, crafting a pair of butting bighorn sheep to show his appreciation for the wildlife of Colorado.
This week also marks his first time getting his chainsaw in gear again for a competitive environment, and Hall said he couldn’t imagine a better place to get back into the swing of things.
“It’s a lot of fun, a great atmosphere. The guys are great to carve with and the people stopping by are fun to talk to, and it’s just overall a great event,” Hall said.
For a full schedule of events and other details, visit whittlethewood.com.
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