On October 16, 2015

Art in the Wood

Jeff Gottfried touches up one of his wood sculptures at the Big Buzz Chainsaw Carving Festival in Chester last week.

by Stephen Seitz

CHESTER — About 30 chainsaw artists from all over the United States descended on Chester Oct. 6-12, to join the 6th annual Big Buzz Chainsaw Carving Festival, held on Route 103, south of the village.

“I’ve done these in the past,” said organizer Barre Pinske, who has a gallery of his work in Chester. “I started producing these festivals when I was 23 years old. I began the longest continuous festival in the United States, if not the world, in Tupper Lake, New York.”

Pinske said the success of the fall festival makes him think that one a year might not be enough.

“We could have a festival in the springtime,” he said. “I’d also like to get more artists to move to our area. There’s a lot of opportunity along this roadway.”

Visitors came from all over the region. Connecticut resident Mitch Sakoff said he was attending his first festival.

“I came here to see some friends,” he said, “and this is kind of cool and kind of fun. At first, we drove by, but then we came back to watch them, see what they were doing. It’s amazing to watch them work.”

Ann Marie Baron and her husband, Ray, of Westfield, Mass., said they were festival regulars. They’ve attended every festival, and left with a carving every time, she said.

“They’re great artists,” said Ray Baron. “They always have things that you don’t normally get. I tell people at work about this.”

Ann Marie Baron said the sculptures liven up their property.

“We have a bear in the yard, and a wood spirit in a tree,” she said.

Asked if he might do a little carving of his own sometime, Ray Baron said, “I’m a wannabe. Maybe I’ll give it a try in retirement, or find some way to work in wood.”

Jeff Gottfried, of the Delaware River Woodcarving studio, is based in West Trenton, N.J. He specializes in marine carvings, various fish and other sea creatures. He said he learned about the Chester festival through his friendship with Pinske.

“I’ve known Barre for a long time,” he said. “I live on the Jersey Shore, and I carve in the summertime. All the people on the Shore have my stuff. People keep adding to their collections.”

Gottfried said he has always been a chainsaw artist, and he uses 15 different saws. Asked how he became a carver, he said, “You’ve just got to do it.”

Rich Koonz, of East Berne, N.Y., runs Paladin Projects. Koonz does a lot of custom carving work, including tables, benches, animals, and custom signs. He said he has been a chainsaw artist for eight years.

“I saw someone do it and I thought, ‘I can do that,’” he said.

Koonz said his preferred wood is white pine.

“It’s easy to carve,” he said. “With hard wood, you get a lot of cracks. With soft wood, you can seal the cracks up nicely and keep them to a minimum.”

Koonz said he was a regular at the Chester event.

“I go to four fairs every year,” he said. “I make most of my money at those four fairs. I do have repeat customers, but the fairs always move me around and I’m not in the same spot. ‘We’re glad we found you,’ they’ll say.”

Pinske said he has a larger vision for chainsaw art in Chester. His own studio, he said, is thriving.

“I’ve got so many commissions right now, I can’t get to my own work.” he said. “I got some money from economic development to buy my own CNC machine, so I can reproduce my work. I hope to create some jobs down the road.”

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