Chainsaw artist Kelly Davies causes more than a few heads to turn on Fenwick Crescent with one of his epic masterpieces, a dragon flowing like a wood spirit from an eight-foot tree stump.
People going for a summer stroll simply stop and stare. There is nothing like it in St. Albert’s older neighbourhood lined with majestic trees.
At first glance the wooden sculpture looks like a scaly, reptilian extraterrestrial. On closer inspection, it is in fact, a three-clawed mythical dragon complete with folded wings, head spines, body armour and a tail that whips around the stump base. Think Game of Thrones.
“I love the claws, and the wings turned out really well. But a lot of this is from Mother Nature. I just love it,” said Davies speaking from his Sherwood Park home where he operates Animatters Animation and Design Studio.
Davies started chainsaw carving in 1999, sculpting snow and ice. For the past 13 years he carved the remarkable ice sculptures at St. Albert’s Snowflake Festival.
However, wood art was something Davies stumbled into three years ago. As an ice carver, he thrived during winter months practising and shaping frozen, brittle formations.
“But every summer I was desperate. I didn’t know how to fill my time. I tried making toys. I build musical instruments. I even made a harp. But nothing grabbed my heart the way chainsaw carving did.”
Three years ago, his family took a summer road trip to Oregon. Throughout the journey, they came across a series of carousels. The kids insisted on riding the menagerie of horses while Dad admired the whimsical craftsmanship.
Upon returning home, Davies approached Fort Edmonton Park offering to carve an animal for its carousel. Everything was looking up until he received the blueprint.
“It was smart and simple. I followed the steps. I blocked the steps and then it was time to carve. My shoulders slumped. I realized this was going to take forever and I’m not a patient man.”
Buying special chainsaw attachments, he attempted his first piece of wood art.
“The second the end of the saw touched wood, I knew this was it. I couldn’t believe that all the years I’d touched the chainsaw to wood, I hadn’t thought of it.”
In the short span of a few years, he’s carved bears, owls, eagles, turtles and even Polynesian surf boards. Several standout pieces range from a wolf howling at the moon, owls burrowed in a tree and eagles flying from a tree.
His reputation advanced to the point that STIHL, a power tool distributor, invited him to join its carving team.
Although Davies uses a variety of tools for intricate details, he has 14 chainsaws, each with a different purpose. Five were used to carve the dragon.
Dragon tree historyDiana and Bob Clague live a quiet life. When the now retired couple originally purchased a Forest Lawn bungalow in 1975, they never imagined their front yard would one day act like a magnet for neighbours and news outlets.
As second owners, the young couple finished the one-year-old house, built a garage and paved the driveway. In the bare front yard, they planted a spruce and Manitoba maple.
“We liked the idea of a Manitoba maple. That’s where we’re from,” Diana said.
But 43 years later, the cute little maple whose leaf adorns our flag had grown to more than 50 feet. By its nature, the Manitoba maple is a very messy and aggressive tree to have on residential properties, as it can damage foundations and sewage pipes.
“I love trees and I hated cutting it. But it was so messy. I had it pruned one year and spent a bunch of money. The next year you wouldn’t have known it was pruned,” Bob said.
Despite the decision to cut down the maple, the Clagues opted to keep an eight-foot stump where a fork in the trunk had developed. Diana did an internet search on woodcarvers and discovered Davies.
“He was local. His website had samples of woodwork. When we talked he was very personable,” she said.
Unsure of what to sculpt, the Clagues asked Davies for input.
“He said, ‘I really want to do a dragon and I’ll give you a good deal,‘” said Bob. A handshake sealed the deal.
The entire project was spread over a three-week period whenever Davies could fit it into his schedule. The maple is classified as hardwood and this particular stump had a one-and-one-half-inch bark that took seven hours to strip.
“The surprise was I had to push so hard on the tools. Holy, moly. It really beat me up. I worked at the Interstellar Rodeo all day and it didn’t make me as tired,” Davies laughed adding he also picked a day to strip bark when temperatures hit 30 C.
The power carver then whittled the features and applied a flat sander to knock off the sharp edges. His next step was to selectively apply an orange-flamed Tiger Torch to burn the wood and highlight features.
The last step was lathering the sculpture with a honey-coloured coat of Minwax, a stain that protects wood.
“The first coat is important. I like to make sure every nook and cranny is covered. I like to use Minwax because it’s a strong UV inhibitor and keeps the wood from going grey and black.”
Estimates are that the total working time was about 20 hours. Where most of us would only see a chopped tree trunk, Davies shaped a mysterious creature with a smouldering personality. And the dragon is even more impressive considering chainsaws aren’t renowned for their finesse.
For now, it seems there isn’t any stump art Davies can’t conquer.