When my colleagues invited me to join them on a trip to Sisters in August, I admittedly knew very little about why I was going.
“Come meet Skip,” they said. “We’re featuring him in our next campaign.”
Skip, I wondered. Who is Skip?
Here is what I knew: Skip carves sculptures with a chainsaw.
Okay, sure, that seemed neat enough. I grew up in Wisconsin. We’ve got trees and artists and sculptures carved from tree trunks. I’d go check out this Skip guy in Sisters.
On the drive to his place, I began to learn more. He once completed a massive display of the Mayan creation myth and the Day of the Dead in a five-paneled, 3,000-pound work of art now hanging in the restaurant at the ARIA Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.
Well, I’d never seen that kind of work in Wisconsin. The intrigue grew.
The drive to his place took us off the main roads, onto dirt roads, and into the wilderness outside of Sisters. His property was exactly what I’d have imagined for a wood-carving artist in the forests of Central Oregon – expansive, secluded, wooded, and peppered with sheds and work buildings. In the distance we heard the roar of a chainsaw and we were promptly greeted by a barking, yet tail-wagging, dog.
We were either about to be amazed or about to be involved in another “Blair Witch Project” sequel. Thankfully it was very, very much the former.
J. Chester “Skip” Armstrong, a man in his late sixties, stood before us, covered head to toe in sawdust, his work jumper unzipped and hanging loose, and – of all footwear – a pair of Crocs protecting his feet. An iPhone looked out of place in our surroundings as it peeked from his front pocket, and before him stood a rough, but incredible start of a sculpture he’d been roughing out with a chainsaw when we arrived.
My jaw was already on the ground. This guy was cool.
Skip is a chainsaw sculptor who, in his 40-year career, has created pieces that now exist in museums as well as in the collections of millionaires and celebrities, like Clint Eastwood, Michael Jackson, and Burt Reynolds. Not to mention that piece in the ARIA’s restaurant.
That day on his property, as we tip-toed with fascination around logs, through sawdust, and among sculptures, he told us how his now-legendary sculpting career came to be.
The answer? YMCA summer camp.
His desire to teach kids about woodcarving put a chainsaw in his hand while serving as program director for a camp outside Portland. The rest, as they say, is history.
And there I stood, 40 years later, before a wood-carved stampede of horses with expressions on their faces and taut muscles as realistic as any horse I’d seen in real life.
And he did this with a chainsaw. Not only with a chainsaw, I learned, but he carves freehand. He simply envisions his art in the wood he’s chosen, grabs his chainsaw, and begins to cut.
“But how?” I probably asked him nine times that day. But the question from Skip is how else would he do it?
To work from his own vision in his mind allows him to see it fully – three-dimensionally. He can envision the curves and angles, and the result can be fluid, ever-changing as he carves. He doesn’t have that freedom with a sketch.
I’m still mind-blown, but who am I to question the artist?
His work begins as a rough carving before a smaller chainsaw is used for finer details. In the end, each piece is smoothed with a sanding tool and given finishing touches. And, in my opinion, each piece is phenomenal.
It’s been more than two months since meeting Skip and witnessing his craft firsthand, and I still find myself fascinated by his skills. If you’re not familiar with him, take the time to look up his work.
And keep an eye out because you’ll be seeing his face around BendBroadband for a while.