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Chainsaw sculptors put skills to test at carving event

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RONAN — Where many people see a plain old massive pine log, Julie Zimmerman sees something a little different. Somewhere deep in the log behind the thick bark, she envisions a work of art just waiting to come out with a little coaxing from her chainsaw. 

Zimmerman is a chainsaw artist from the Bitterroot Valley. She recently spent the past weekend turning chunks of wood into sculptures during the second annual Chainsaw Carving Rendezvous held at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Ronan.

Hosted by the Ronan Area Chamber of Commerce, the four-day Chainsaw Carving 

Rendezvous put the saw skills of five Montanan chainsaw sculptors to the test.

On Thursday, each carver was given a 10-foot log and asked to carve a figure of their choice that would be both judged for cash prizes of $1,200 for first place, $750 for second and $450 for third. The piece would also be auctioned off to the public on Sunday with proceeds being split between the artist and chamber of commerce. The rendezvous also featured ax-throwing, sponsored by Lookout Throwing Company.

As chainsaws buzzed and sawdust flew, onlookers watched as simple round logs slowly began to take form. A growling grizzly bear started to form in one log. The face of a wild mountain man was in another, and a black bear hunting for honey was also included. Another sculpture was of a dog chasing a pheasant and a sasquatch.

“This is my first ever carving competition. It’s been awesome,” said Zimmerman. “I have done a few exhibitions in the past but this is my first real competition event.”

Zimmerman, a flower and gift shop owner in Lolo, described how she stumbled upon her chainsaw carving passion. About six years ago, while shopping at a craft fair for items to resale in her shop, she purchased a few chainsaw carvings from a vendor.

She recalled thinking, “I think I can do this,” even though she had never touched a chainsaw in her life. She learned the basics over a weekend in below zero weather. “I made a small bear and it has gone from there,” she said. “My favorites to carve are the bears and moose. After working all week, I carve all day Saturday and Sunday. I can do a smaller carvings in an hour or two. Bigger pieces take a few days, depending on how detailed I want to be.” 

Todd Coats, of Bigfork, won this year’s contest with his menacing growling grizzly sculpture, followed Libby carvers Jeff Adamson and Ron Adamson.

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