Chainsaw Artist Mark Chavez Honors Firefighters With His Sculptures at the Scene of a Fire
Dragon Claims Over 250 Beautiful Acres
In 2003, firemen in Albuquerque, New Mexico, slayed a dragon (a fireman's slang word for a particularly bad fire), but not before its fiery breath burned over 250 acres of beautiful wooded acreage along the Rio Grande River, the result of careless teenagers playing with fireworks.
During the catastrophic fire, trees were charred and hundreds of people were evacuated; and the Paseo del Bosque trail and scenic land along the river were badly damaged. Many species of animals became displaced or died as a result of the fire. It was a sad time for many people, including one of the firefighters who helped to put out the blaze, Albuquerque native Mark Chavez.
After the fire, there were no mythical creatures to rise from the ashes, but Chavez provided a bit of a silver lining to the horrible fire. A chainsaw carver, Chavez brought his chainsaws, die grinders, sanders and propane burners to the site of the fire, where he turned many of the remaining cottonwood tree trunks into incredible works of art that have delighted many thousands of visitors from all over the world over the past several years.
You can see the results of his work in the photographs that accompany this article.
A Firefighter With a Creative Spirit
At the time of the fire in 2003, Chavez was a full-time firefighter who did chainsaw art in his spare time. He has since retired and has created over 3,000 chainsaw sculptures, many of which you can see on the website for his business, The Sandia Bear Company.
Chavez also organizes the AIBF (Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta) Chainsaw Carving Invitational held each year in October featuring professional carvers from all over the United States. The event raises funds for the the Albuquerque Area Firefighters Random Acts of Kindness charity, which provides necessary items to victims of catastrophic events (fire, flood, storms, etc).
The Evolution of Woodcarving to Chainsaw Sculpting
Necessity (being the mother of invention) created woodcarving as early man used bones and sharp rocks to shape pieces of wood into the tools they needed. Technology, as always, allowed people to become more elaborate in their carvings and they began creating not only functional items, but artistic and religious ones.
- Andreas Stihl designed the first portable saw in 1926 called a bucking saw, which was electric and weighed 140 pounds. In 1929, he developed a gas version called the tree-felling machine, a one-man model with a helper handle on the bar end. It's easy to see why the idea of chainsaw carving didn't cross the minds of people back then.
- Stihl followed up with a two-man, petrol-driven chainsaw that he designed in 1938. By 1950, a single-operator, petrol-driven chainsaw was available that weighed a mere 35 pounds, which was considered very light at the time.
- Beginning in about the 1960's people began experimenting with carving as newer technology allowed them to use chainsaws that were lighter and provided increased maneuverability, but no one really knows who the first real carver was.
- Today, chainsaws weigh around 15 pounds and there are thousands of master woodcarvers worldwide with varying skill levels and techniques.
How to Get to the Pueblo Montaño Chainsaw Sculpture Garden
You can see the Mark Chavez carvings in the Pueblo Montaño trailhead of the Paseo del Bosque. Take I-25 to the Montgomery/Montaño exit (Exit 228). Go west on Montaño and continue over the river. The Pueblo Montaño Picnic Area and Sculpture Park is one block east of Coors Blvd. on the south side of Montaño Road. The driveway/parking lot is opposite Winter Haven Road.
Note: The name Pueblo Montaño is in honor of the ancient pueblo village that is known to have existed in this location from about AD 1300 to mid-1400.
- A Map to the Pueblo Montaño Sculptures in Albuquerque
If you are interesting in seeing the amazing chainsaw carvings in the sculpture garden, this map will help you get there.
2017 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Chainsaw Carvers
If you are interested in seeing the work of other professional carvers (and they are pretty unbelievable), this is a list of some who demonstrated their work at the 2017 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (click on the name to access photographs and information about each of them):
Mark Chavez at Work
© 2017 Mike and Dorothy McKenney