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Chainsaw lady creates Pacific Northwest art
Carol Whitbeck is “The Chainsaw Lady” and she owns up to her title in every way.
Mid-day, the Silverdale business owner fires up her Stihl saw and gets busy. Outside her Ridgetop Boulevard shop, located next to Pages Books, Whitbeck will inspect the chunk of cedar wood sitting in front of her. Until she starts carving, she doesn’t know what she will create. The knots in every tree are different, and the knots could lend itself nicely from anything to a bear or a fisherman.
“My favorite thing to carve is what I want to,” she said, although she does take custom requests. “Carving on command takes the art out of what I want to do. Wood has its own pattern. You have to work with what the wood gives you.”
Although someone may request Whitbeck to make a smaller version of something she has in her store already, she likes to remind customers that carvings can’t be duplicated. Yet, if she’s unhappy with how a piece has turned out, she might change it later on. She once re-sculpted a seal into a bear with her cubs.
Whitbeck may wield a chainsaw frequently, but she understands the danger the tool can present. She owns four different chainsaws to get the job done, and she’s still a little bit afraid when she starts one up. Although she’s been at it for more than 20 years, Whitbeck thinks a chainsaw artist should always be somewhat scared, because mistakes happen when one gets too brave.
Growing up in the country without running water and electricity, there wasn’t a whole lot to do. One day she was in Poulsbo when she watched a man carving wood art and decided it was something she wanted to try. She still remembers the first time she ran her O 27 chainsaw. Whitbeck was working on a mushroom when a woman came up and asked her what she was doing. The lady fell in love with the piece and wanted to buy it. That was her first taste of someone appreciating her art, and she’s had the hunger ever since.
But don’t applaud her on her first pieces of artwork.
“If I showed you my first work, we could have a bonfire,” Whitbeck said with a laugh.
A month later, she started competing in chainsaw carving competitions.
Even in a field dominated mostly by men, Whitbeck has kept a cheery attitude about what she does, and jokes around a lot. She’s had her artwork stolen, and men have walked away from her after finding out she’s the one who really creates the heavy wood pieces.
“If I didn’t laugh, I’d cry,” joked the single mother of three. “I have a chainsaw; it doesn’t get me a lot of dates.”
Whitbeck’s jovial personality caught the attention of Peggy Paul at Whaling Days, where Paul stopped to admire the woodwork Whitbeck created. It wasn’t long after that Paul stopped in to Carol’s Chainsaw Creations to see what the local artist was up to. A few days a week, Paul acts as a volunteer shop coordinator to keep the self-proclaimed ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) Whitbeck organized.
In addition to her chainsaw art, she also runs Home of Vintage Artisan, a collection of unique gifts, including local art, on the same site where she carves into wood.
“Peggy is priceless,” said Whitbeck, who held up a stack of receipts Paul recently organized for her. “I trust her like she’s like my grandmother.”
Helping out in the store came naturally for Paul, who once owned her own business. She also grew up in a logging town, which is why the sound of a chainsaw doesn’t bother her. Her brother, Ike Carpenter, who lives in Idaho, sends his items to be displayed in the store.
“Her great ability of conversation (is my favorite thing about her),” said Paul. “She smiles all the time.”
Whitbeck said the wood tables, lamps and mirrors compliment her work as well, which is one of the reasons she’s happy to have Carpenter’s art in her store. There’s even a lamp that’s made from wood that survived a 1910 fire in Oregon.
“Each piece has a story that comes with it,” Whitbeck said.
The same goes for Whitbeck’s own work. Sometimes she’ll go out to someone’s yard if they have a tree they recently cut down. She’ll trade carvings for wood, and she’ll create a masterpiece right out of a stump if it’s the quality she’s looking for. Her work goes for $65 and up, and it’s created to last, which is why she puts a special finishing touch on it to preserve the wood. On an average week, she’ll create 10 to 12 pieces for display. She’s carved everything: bears, manatees, fisherman, dolphins, owls and the like.
“I wanted a shop no one else had in Silverdale. I think I have that,” she said. “I wanted to bring art back to Silverdale. I wanted to bring back Pacific Northwest native art.”
In addition to creating wood carvings from scratch, Whitbeck finds old furniture and creates her own chalk paint to refinish what most would just toss into the garbage. It’s her love for green art that brought most of the items into the shop, as she thinks others can find a purpose for the items, too.
Some things are new — like the earrings that a local nurse handcrafts with beads from Turkey — and others are old and new, like the saws one artist paints whimsical scenes on.
Once the warm weather kicks in, Whitbeck also wants to give back to the community by creating a garden to feed the hungry. In it, she would have some of her homemade garden benches and bird houses. Even though she’s had a million things to do since she opened her shop on Oct. 1, Whitbeck wouldn’t have it any other way.
“You never know what you’re gonna find in here. That’s what I wanted,” she said. “So far, it’s been fun. I’ve met some great people here. Art is a job; it’s fabulous.”