WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Chainsaw Artists Creating a Buzz

Aug 17, 2016

Sandy Songer of Broken Bow, Oklahoma, has a bit of advice for anyone who wants to watch chainsaw artists in action.

“If you’re going to stay around us very long, you need to put some earplugs in,” she said with a laugh as chainsaws revved and roared behind her, sounding like race cars and drowning out all other background sounds.

Songer demonstrated her sculpting skills during a nearly week-long exhibit as part of the 2016 Adams County Fair.  Songer was at the fair with her husband Stevie. She said they’ve been carving for 16 years.

“He was a chainsaw and lawnmower mechanic and he no longer wanted to be in that business. One of our salesmen was a part-time carver and he talked us into trying it.  And we’ve been doing it ever since,” she said.

The Songers were joined by several other members of LogHoggers, a group of chainsaw sculptors, who call their work “high performance art.”

Several of the LogHoggers said sculptures of bears are always popular.
Credit Rich Egger

The LogHoggers website indicates the organization formed in 1995.  R.D. Coonrod of Quincy, Illinois, who said he is the owner of LogHoggers, described himself as a performance artist. And he said the craft has evolved over the years.

“The technology keeps expanding every year. Manufacturers come up with new tools and equipment and attachments for the saw. With technology advancing and with people practicing more and more, it just naturally causes creativity to expand,” Coonrod said.

The event at the county fair was promoted as a competition, and the artist whose work brought in the most money was declared the winner.

The wood carvings created during the week depicted bears, owls, flowers, and more.  Some of the pieces stood about a foot tall, others at least six feet tall.  Some of the art was functional, such as benches and mini-bars, others were purely decorative pieces. 

The more than 100 works created during the week were auctioned off on a steamy Sunday afternoon.  Large fans whirred as people packed a long, white tent on the fairgrounds to view the pieces, and more than 100 bid cards were taken out. 

Matthew Loper of Grandview, Indiana (left) and Sam Dunning of Benton, Kentucky work on sculptures.
Credit Rich Egger

Coonrod declined to say how much money they collected, though he identified the winning artist as Steven Higgins of Kansas City, Kansas.

A father and son also competed in the event.  Willy Loper and his son, Matthew Loper, are from Grandview, Indiana.  Both said they like to work with wood from catalpa trees. 

That’s just the best carving wood because it won’t crack on you like a lot of the other woods do. It’s awesome to work with,” said Willy Loper, who goes by the moniker “Chainsaw Willy.”

Matthew Loper said catalpa is soft but durable.  He said it’s easier to carve soft woods – and less painful.

“You get hit in the face with chips from a hard wood, it’s like somebody throwing gravel in your face,” he said.