Carving an artistic niche one notch at a time.
Written by Kathleen M. Jacobs
Photographs courtesy of Kenneth Lake
It all began with an octopus.
When Hampshire County resident Kenneth Lake was three years old, he was already interested in art. One of his earliest drawings was of an octopus, which his mother kept. Lake has had no formal art education, but has always liked to draw and paint.
“I would often go to the library and look at art books, and as a teenager looking for different things to do, I was drawn to the works of artists. My dad was a contractor, and at some point I was given a knife and I began to whittle rabbits and various figurines for fun. One of my earliest pieces was a simple vase.”
After watching chainsaw carving at camps and fairs, Lake’s interest grew. And as he continued his education at Providence Baptist College near Chicago and sold lawn care services and hired himself out as a handyman in order to meet his college expenses, he eventually ended up working for a tree removal service. His employer at the time posted a job for a chainsaw carver. Lake was 21 years old.
Chainsaw carving combines the modern technology of a chainsaw with the ancient art of woodcarving. Some masters of the art include English chainsaw artist Matthew Crabb and the highly regarded works of the Welsh veteran Harry Thomas. Lake joins them and the ranks of chainsaw carvers around the world, from Canada to Japan. Each has spent considerable time practicing and studying their art form. Every year, in Ridgway, Pennsylvania, the Chainsaw Carving Rendezvous gathers carvers from around the world.
“I never used a chainsaw,” Lake explained to his employer, after inquiring about the job post. “I’ll drive you around,” his employer said, “and show you some chainsaw carvings.” Lake explained to him that he would need to make enough money to be able to pay his college expenses, and the two men struck a deal.
“I carved a bear, a tree spirit, and a few cowboy boot benches. I made carvings until I left Chicago and returned to Hampshire County. Since I’d never had any tools or chainsaws of my own, I was starting from scratch again.”
He began to work with Bent River Woodworks in Capon Bridge in 2016, and now works full-time as a chainsaw carver, looking toward the future with a new line of carved furniture. “I love art,” Lake says, with such conviction that it is more than evident in the pieces he creates. And to think it all started with a simple drawing of an octopus.