A new form of art gallery has set up across the highway from the Silver Rock Condos this year. Michael Penny has used the space to set up shop for his chainsaw carvings and can be seen most days working outside next to the highway.
Penny is relatively new to chainsaw art, having gotten his start in 2011. Through friends, he met a carver who put a chainsaw in his hands and told him to try it.
“I had never done a carving before and I went to his place, and he just put [a chainsaw] in my hand and I carved a face,” he told The Free Press. “It was tricky and it wasn’t a great carving but it was just enough for me to get excited about it.”
Immediately after that, Penny went to Carvapalooza in southern Ontario for his first competition. When the piece he carved for the contest sold at an auction, Penny began to think he could make a serious go of chainsaw art.
Penny and his family moved to Fernie in July, and he set up shop outside of Fernie Auto Parts, carving most days there. In the fall, he moved to his new location on the west end of town and spends his days crafting logs into bears, owls and eagles, among other things.
“There is a certain school of chainsaw carving of bears and eagles and owls. They are a popular theme and I have to get those out of the way and have to learn them,” Penny said. “I’m a forest rat too. I love the wood so all of these animals hold a special place for me beyond just trying to be able to figure them out.”
The amount of time for each piece is dependent on the size and detail required for the structure. After the first day, the structure usually takes the shape of the intended animal. Penny spends most of his time on the details – the feathers, fur, eyes and talons of the animal.
Chainsaw artist, Michael Penny, sculpted his first eagle, which migrated to the Meek family home in Illinois.
“I don’t know where it comes from, I really don’t, but I can carve anything. Given the time and given the study. I’ll find lots of images and borrow the parts that I like out of everything,” he said. “Like my owls – I don’t pick one species of owl and then carve them. I like the way the eyes are on a certain bird and then I like the feather patterns on another one, and then I like the talons on a different one and I will make my own owl. It’s an art owl, there are no rules.”
To date, Penny has crafted an inventory of pieces and is working mostly on commissioned pieces. One of his latest pieces is an eagle – the first one he’s made – and it is on its way to Illinois to an American family. Penny doesn’t have much of a web presence but he is inspired by the contacts and sales he has already made.
“I’m just going to keep on doing what I do. If I just stay true and concentrate just on the carving and my journey to improve, I can’t go wrong. If I start thinking about business and carving for the market and trying to see what will sell, it won’t feel like it’s going to work out,” he said. “If I just be really, really honest to myself and to the art, then I’m pretty sure it will take care of itself. I’m really encouraged. In a quick short time, I have met really cool people in Fernie.”