Dorothy is a Master Gardener, former newspaper reporter, and the author of several books. Michael is a landscape/nature photographer in NM.
Inspiration Behind Albuquerque Chainsaw Sculptures
In 2003, firemen in Albuquerque, New Mexico, slew 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. 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.
Chavez also organizes the AIBF (Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta) Chainsaw Carving Invitational held each year in October, which features professional carvers from all over the United States. The event raises funds for the Albuquerque Area Firefighters Random Acts of Kindness charity, which provides necessary items to victims of catastrophic events (fire, flood, storms, etc.).
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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.
Mark Chavez at Work
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 as well.
- 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 peoples' minds 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 1960s, 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.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2017 Mike and Dorothy McKenney