Carve Wars Chainsaw Competition Brings Rustic Arts to Tuckerton Seaport

By PAT JOHNSON | May 08, 2019
Photo by: Pat Johnson Dayton Scoggins carves a two-toned squirrel out of red cedar.

Tuckerton — The smell of cut cedar and pine and the whine of chainsaws brought a decent crowd to the Tuckerton Seaport on Saturday. Eight chainsaw artists offered their decorative wares: bears with human-like smiles, sailors equipped for the sea, an assortment of small critters and sporting fish.

Michelle Harrison and her husband Wyatt came from West Milford in Passaic County, where they live in a big log cabin off Greenwood Lake. As Wyatt sliced through a truck of pine on its way to becoming a bear, Michelle manned their booth.

“My husband is the ‘big bear guy,”’ she said. “He’s a woodworker by trade. He makes McNally’s Strumsticks, a three-string guitar, and makes the bases for Tetor Telescopes. He’s a seven-day-a-week guy. When he’s tired of doing production woodworking he goes right outside and carves. He’s carving all the time.”

Michelle recently started her own carving line. She prefers to make bas relief wall hangings of flowers that are popular. She has also carved owls and a big pelican that is one cornerstone of their booth.

“I learned from my husband and his carver friends,” she said. Chainsaw carvers are like a tribe, she explained. “We travel to different shows together; we’re one big happy family.”

Brian Ackley is known as “The Ackmonster.” He was carving a character from the series “Pirates of the Caribbean,” the one with the octopus beard. He had already sawed off the rough parts of the tree truck and was now using a diamond saw to do the details. He would spray paint the wood to finish it off.

As The Ackmonster worked, his dad, Kenny Ackley, explained that his son grew up in the family’s sawmill business. “Twenty years ago, he bought a carved bear from a friend and said, ‘I could do something like that.’ He had no training, he just picked it up.

“Bears are the big seller. If you can’t carve a bear, hang it up, you’ll starve.”

Every summer the Ackley family travels to county fairs in Virginia and Alabama, said Kenny. “He gets paid to be there. He’s an attraction.”

Scott Hook from Northville in New York’s Adirondack Mountains has been working at carving for 15 years and sells his work out of his shop. Bears are the biggest seller, but Hook also does a good business in dragons. When he works he gets lost in what he is doing. “Yeah, it’s spiritual. You step back when you’re done and say, ‘Wow, where’d that come from?’”

Hook agrees that when carvers get together it’s like family. “We’re not competing against each other; we’re helping each other.”

He had praise for carver Dayton Scoggins, who was hard at work on a small squirrel.

“He’s like a God to us. He carved the standing deer bust. He’s incredible.”

As a crowd watched Scoggins create the two-toned squirrel from one piece of red cedar, a woman stepped up and bought an alligator figure that held a fishing pole. Scoggins’ carvings all had personality.

People dream of someday chucking their day job and doing their art full time, but not many have the courage to do it. Kevin Treat did. He was an optometrist. Now he’s a “Sawptician” (his word) and does the carving circuit when he’s not carving in his home in the Poconos.

Besides observing the chainsaw carvers, visitors to the Seaport could eat from a circle of food trucks and, to pass the time, learn to throw an axe. Frank Breitweisen and Ryan and Christa Southerland own the Grizzly and Co. mobile axe-throwing booth. They started shopping their business at Renaissance Fairs and recently branched out to the chainsaw and county fair circuit.

For $5, a person gets five tomahawks to throw at a block of wood.

“I started with the Boy Scouts,” said Ryan, “teaching wilderness and frontier skills.”

“It has a lot of history to it,” said Brietweisen. The company also runs a “Mountain Man Camp” somewhere in the wilds.

Late afternoon and it was time for the auction of creations made that day. “All the carvers received two piles of logs to carve from,” said Carve Wars organizer and carver Joe Wenal.

Michelle Harrison’s flower relief brought in a quick $100, then a bear holding a flag by Scoggins went for $260, a hatching dragon by Hook reached $260. A bidding war erupted over Scoggins’ standing buck until it hit $800, then a turtle by Wenal fetched $900. There was plenty more rustic wood art to sell and from the look of the excited buyers, all the wooden creatures were going to good homes.

— Pat Johnson


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