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Carving out a career

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Posted: Sunday, October 10, 2010 12:00 am | Updated: 4:41 pm, Wed Apr 20, 2011.

From a distance, they seem like a strange oddity. Barely visible through the swirls of sawdust and noise, the rugged and scruffy chainsaw carvers create extremely detailed and fine sculptures.

Unsure of what to call them, some would say they are unique hobbyists.

They call themselves artists.

These hobbyists/artists have made their way to Albuquerque for ECHO Inc.'s sixth annual National Chainsaw Carving Championship at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Four of the world's most prominent chainsaw artists competed to win a grand prize of $5,000 for the best wood sculpture. Bob King of Edgewood, Wash., took home first place for his sculpture of a deer with her two fawns surrounded by owls, a frog and a lizard. The 22-hour competition highlighted the time and passion that goes into a carving. It also revealed that chainsaw carving is more than just a hobby. It's an art, profession, and, more importantly, a way of life.

At first, however, chainsaw carving was just a mere fascination to King. Now known as the world's most prominent chainsaw carver, King started carving after he was laid off from Boeing in 1998. While perusing the booths at a small fair, he saw a few carvings and thought he'd give it a shot.

"So I went home and I tried it. The first thing I made was a little black bear which took three days. When I got done, I stepped back and said, ‘Hey, it looks like a black bear," he said.

Shortly thereafter, King decided to take chainsaw carving up professionally.

"I went home one day and told my wife, I'm going to be a full-time chainsaw artist," he said. "That went over like a lead balloon."

His wife, Cindy King, now accompanies Bob King to the 10 competitions he participates in every year.

Last year, the couple traveled to Germany, England, Scotland, Holland, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Albuquerque for chainsaw carving competitions, Bob King said.

At first, however, Cindy King was skeptical about his career choice.

"I wasn't happy to hear he was going to give up his day job to be a professional carver," Cindy King said.

The couple has three children, and while they had a dual income, Bob King shared his wife's anxiety.

"I was nervous...It was definitely a leap of faith, but I've always been positive," he said. "I knew I would either make it or burn to the ground."

There was no fire involved, however.

He began competing in chainsaw carving contests a year later, in 1999.

As he competed in front of spectators, his passion for chainsaw carving became apparent.

"For me, when I look up and I'm out there carving and I see the look on those people's faces, that's what I like," Bob King said.

His love for carving eventually led him to a lucrative and stable career. He earns the majority of his income from private sources, he said.

He has a contract with Burton Snowboards and he carves sculptures for their terrain parks.

Last year, Bob King said he earned an income of $130,000 as a chainsaw carver.

In addition, he also was embedded in the Chainsaw Carver's Walk of Fame in Germany for winning the most chainsaw competitions in the world, Cindy King said.

It didn't take her long to come around to the idea of her husband becoming a professional chainsaw carver.

"I realized financially and emotionally, it was to our advantage so I jumped on the carving train," Cindy King said. "We get to travel all over the world and he's made me very proud."

Bob King and his wife reap the benefits of a talent that manifested by chance.

"I'm an uneducated artist and it's what I do best. It's a God-given gift. I can't draw or paint, but I can carve anything," King said.

While the discourse surrounding chainsaw carving identifies it more as a hobby than fine art, Bob King thinks it's headed in that direction.

"This is not folk art anymore. It is going more toward fine art," Bob King said. "I call it poetic pandemonium."

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