From Broken Limbs to Buzz-saw Beauty

Last year the trees in Fort Collins collectively were dealt a devastating blow. The snowstorm that smashed through our town left nearly no tree untouched. One of the majestic elm trees here at Fort Collins Nursery suffered such severe damage that for safety reasons we had to have it removed. We called Davey Alpine Tree Company out, and they removed all the limbs that posed an immediate safety risk, but because their services were in such great demand at that time, they had to leave the trunk standing and move on to the next job. With a ten foot high tree trunk jutting up out of our newly exposed patio area, our minds began to race – what could we do with such a massive trunk?

Soon, the answer came to us: Chainsaw Mama. We had seen her work at her shop in Loveland on the way up the Big Thompson Canyon. Chainsaw Mama (Faye Braaten) is an expert chainsaw artist. She has been carving for twelve years, and her work can be found far beyond the borders of Colorado. She came out to take a look at our tree, we discussed a few ideas, and scheduled for her to return in February.

Watching her work is fascinating. The form for our sculpture is all in her head. I asked her if she had it all drawn out, and she admitted to drawing a few rough sketched of dragonflies and butterflies to make sure she was carving them the way she wanted, but other than that, the only blueprint exists in her mind’s eye. She uses four different chainsaws, each with its specific use depending on what stage of her sculpture she is on. To watch her wield a tool that is nothing more than a crude cutting tool in most people’s hands is to watch a master.

With the growling buzz of the engines and sawdust flying everywhere, our sculpture takes form. Two massive rose flowers sit atop the pedestal, supported by massive vining stems. More roses take form along the trunk and butterflies and dragonflies nestle between the leaves and stems. The strong scent of two-stroke fuel deceives passersby – how could they know what magnificent art is taking place?

The trees in northern Colorado suffered a collective tragedy last year. We were dismayed when we realized this wooden giant had lost this battle with the elements. Trees are the hallmark of an established landscape, and tell the stories of the generations of people who have enjoyed their shade. When a massive tree dies, the character of the environment around it is profoundly altered. Isn’t it nice to know that the end of life for a tree can still lead to the creation of new beauty?

Below are some pictures of Chainsaw Mama carving our tree. More pictures will be added as her work progresses!


Originally published on February 16th, 2012. Updated on March 17th, 2012.