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ARTS AND CULTURE

3 MIN

In Thunder Bay, a Chainsaw Carver Creates Roadside Works of Art

Lee Fedorchuk is creating a definite buzz in the local art scene … or a deafening buzz, at any rate

On Memorial Avenue in Thunder Bay, there’s a stretch where the landscape is typical of many small cities – mall, burger joint, oil change shop – until you reach the vacant lot where a guy is wielding a chainsaw on a huge chunk of wood, carving it into anything from a Viking to a bear to a 28-piece outdoor chess set.

Lee Fedorchuk of North of Superior Carving is a chainsaw artist who creates between 60 to 80 carvings every year, the wood chips flying as the cars whizz past.  

“I love it because there are so many ideas I want to try,” says Fedorchuk, who is self-taught in the art of chainsaw carving.

Fedorchuk, who is in his late forties, has been chainsaw carving for 25 years now, ever since he saw a bear and eagle by a champion carver from Minnesota on display at a Thunder Bay gas station. He bought both pieces and spent the next year figuring out how to become a carver himself.

His previous work in the outdoors also involved wood and trees in various ways: cutting and “skidding” logs (pulling them out of the woodlot) for forestry companies around Thunder Bay, running a firewood supply business in Yellowknife and Whitehorse, guiding for an outpost camp operator north of the city. He came out of these experiences knowing how to handle a chainsaw, and with ideas on how to interpret the wild beauty of the boreal forest.

Billy visits just as a wood delivery has come in, and they’re massive chunks of white pine, more than 75 centimetres (30 inches) in diameter. Fedorchuk secures the cutting rights from a local forestry company, scouts out the white pine, red pine and cedar trees he wants to cut down, and gets a permit from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. When the paperwork is done, he cuts the tree down, takes the limbs off, and bucks it into chunks as long as three metres (10 feet) or more.

Then a log truck equipped with a self-loader arrives, and Fedorchuk and the driver haul the logs out of the bush to the vacant lot on Memorial. He peels each log by hand using an axe.

And then it’s time to create.

Over the years, Fedorchuk estimates he has completed around 1,800 carvings. Eagles, bears and herons are always big sellers. There’s a wide range of prices: $220 for a 45-centimetre (18-inch) mushroom, $1,700 for a life-size bear, $30,000 or more for an eagle with a 2½-metre wingspan, hand-carved head and airbrushed finish. Each piece gets 12 coats of urethane. A few years ago, Fedorchuk taught himself airbrush painting, a fine touch for a larger-than-life salmon. To keep the finish smooth, the painting and finishing work goes on indoors. Fedorchuk works all year round, usually 40 hours a week, although he concedes that -30C or so is when he calls it a day.

Courtesy Lee Fedorchuk

Not surprisingly, given Fedorchuk’s visible location, a lot of his customers are drive-by traffic – people hit the brakes when they see a huge eagle taking shape. (“When a guy puts his foot up on his bumper, I know I’m in for a long chat,” Fedorchuk says.)

One visitor drops in when he sees the most recent wood delivery. “That log there, that’s going to be your carving,” Fedorchuk says to the customer, who has ordered a life-size dog carving. The man takes a picture of the log to show his family.

Chainsaw art is, admittedly, a bit of a niche market, but a quick cruise through Pinterest and Etsy shows an incredible array of carvings and references to competitions in Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom and North America. (Fedorchuk has competed in the past but isn’t really comfortable with the speed that competitions require.)

Most of his customers are been locals – people with cottages (known as “camps” in the northwest) nearby or gardens that need a unique piece of art. More recently, a website and Facebook page have brought in calls from across Canada. That chunk of white pine that’s around a metre across is headed to British Columbia as a scooter-sized eagle.

Among potential foreign markets, Fedorchuk has his eye on Japan (where the customers enjoy whales) and Germany (a sucker for anything related to an Indigenous theme).

The custom orders that come in can be puzzling. “Someone just commissioned this ninja. First ninja I ever carved,” he says, pointing to the partially finished, life-size figure in the shipping container that serves as his office.

Courtesy Lee Fedorchuk

Ninja in progress

Fedorchuk sees no end in sight for his chainsaw art. A lot of kids love being outside and the excitement of big noisy machines. The artist has never forgotten the first thrill of slicing a log with a chainsaw, carefully guided by his dad’s hands. Fedorchuk loves cutting into wood; always has. “I am one of the fortunate ones who is living out their childhood dream,” he says.

Published Monday, April 24th 2017

Header image credit: Courtesy Lee Fedorchuk

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