Shawn Ward sweeps Whittle the Wood

Michelle Balleck

By the time the crowd picked up, the chainsaws had died down.

Four days of carving had come down to this. Camp chairs blanketed the Craig City Park lawn while wood artists waited for the Whittle the Wood Rendezvous awards Saturday evening.

The rest of the crowd sipped on cans of beer and listened to the Martini Shot Band. Speculation among spectators was that Shawn Ward, a humble man from Price, Utah, was going to take home the prize.

Little did they know, Ward would take home all three.

Organizer Dave Pike, director of Craig Parks and Recreation, presented him with a plaque for the Artist’s Choice for the fantasy-themed piece he titled, “Spell Bound.”

Pike patted him on the back and a cloud of dust stirred from his shirt. Then Pike told him, “Don’t go anywhere.”

The People’s Choice was the same as the Artist’s, and Ward stood in front of the crowd with another plaque.

The judges agreed Ward’s was the best as well, and with this honor came a $750 stipend. Ken Davis of Montrose took second, and $500, for his “Monkey N’ Around” piece. Bob Waits of Lander, Wyo., got $250 for third with “Hooters,” a statue depicting several owls perched in a tree.

Ward, dressed in a black shirt, denim overalls, socks but no shoes, and a Duff Beer hat, joked with his friends after the results, and just laughed when they said he was buying dinner.

He claimed he had no idea he was going to win anything, let alone sweep the awards. Maybe he should have known. He had already done it once, at the 2003 contest.

What he really didn’t know, he said Wednesday, was exactly what he was going to make out of the stump placed before him.

“You don’t know what you can do ’til you get your tree,” he said.

After the lottery for dibs, he set up scaffolding and went to town. He let the chainsaw lead him to his imaginative creation.

“It starts coming out of the wood as you go,” Ward said. “There’s no way you can plan it.” He wanted to make a piece different from the rest in the park, so he started with an owl in flight at the top, and worked his way down with a wizard and fire-breathing dragon, finishing with a medieval-style castle at the base.

The artist makes a living with this art form, and usually works nearly twice as long on a piece this size. Unlike carvers who bring a variety of tools for detail work, Ward uses only chainsaws, yet still captures the texture of the wizard’s beard and feathers on the owl’s wing.

All week, Ward worked diligently, even through the distraction of curious observers.

Pike said this year’s attendance was “way up,” and the sunshine played a big part.

“I don’t suppose this weather had anything to do with it, do you?” he said.

Organizing the event gets easier and easier, Pike said, thanks to a hard-working staff. Plus, nationally known bands like Pure Prairie League, who performed later Saturday evening, help draw a crowd.

“Between the entertainment and the carvers,” he said, “it’s a great day in the park.”

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