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Chainsaw sculptor at Fillmore County Fair

Sun, Jul 23rd, 2000
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Monday, July 24, 2000

In his jeans and sport shirt and work boots, Dave Watson doesn't look much like a chef anymore. Specks of sawdust are sprinkled throughout his hair and clothes, and the heavy apron he wears to protect his clothes is spotted with grease, oil and dirt.

Watson's transition from restaurant chef to chainsaw wood sculptor may seem like a giant leap in careers, but to the Randolph, Wisconsin, native it is a logical progres-sion.

Watson was in Preston for the Fillmore County Fair this past week, putting on several chainsaw sculpting demonstrations.

"As a chef for fifteen years, I learned how to present food with an artistic swirl, transforming hunks of chocolate, butter and cheese into edible works of art," Watson said. "Now, I try and do it in wood."

DAVE WATSTON, a wood sculptor from Wisconsin Dells, whose sculptures were auctioned off Saturday night with the proceeds going to the fair. Photo by Al Mathison

If there was a transition between Watson "the artist in the kitchen" and "the sculptor in the wood pile" it was ice sculpting. Watson started by entering the ice sculpting competition at the Winter Carnival in the Twin Cities several years ago. That's where he developed his skills with the chainsaw, cutting out bits of ice and transforming an ice block into a piece of art. It wasn't long before Watson soon became a regular winner at the Winter Carnival.

"Sculpting with wood is about taking away," Watson said. "With chocolate, butter and cheese, you sculpt by adding more material. Wood sculpting is total reduction. If you take too much you're in trouble."

Watson, who was U.S. Grand National Wood Carving Champion in 1992, has been working full-time as a chainsaw sculptor for the past ten years. He and his wife, Annette, maintain a showroom and workshop in Wisconsin Dells, where Watson maintains a ready inventory of sculptures.

In addition to making enough carvings to keep the showroom stocked, Watson does piece work for customers, where the price tag is determined by the size of the piece, type of wood used and difficulty of design.

"People like bears. Big bears, small bears. I did a bear for George Steinbrenner (controversial owner of the New York Yankees) once," Watson said. "I've even done life-size golfer bears." Watson confesses to also doing quite a few Badgers and Vikings as part of his trade.

Watson does eight to ten fairs a year where he demonstrates his art. He is hired for the whole show and the pieces he does are owned by the fair. The Fillmore County Fair Board auctioned off Watson's sculptures on Saturday night.

During his demonstrations, Watson engages the audience; joking with them and asking kids to raise their hands when they can first tell what it is that he is carving.

During a show last Wednesday at the fair, Watson began work on a block of rough wood, cutting out what appeared at first to be a pair of large rabbit ears. A bevy of chainsaws were laid out on the ground, each with a different blade that Watson used for different types of cutting. Before too long, the wood began to take shape as a duck and what had appeared to be rabbit ears, turned into cattails.

Watson leaned over his saw, working faster now, as he cut out in block letters the word -- WELCOME. As the audience clapped their hands in appreciation and wonder, the former chef looked up and smiled broadly from behind his goggles. "Thank you, very much," he said.

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