WRITER | PATTI EDDINGTON
If you live in the mitten, no doubt you’re familiar with the adage, “Don’t like the weather? Just wait five minutes.”
Michiganders are rarely surprised when a lovely sunny day suddenly turns to threatening skies and weather alerts. We have about 30 days each year with severe thunderstorms, which spawn an average of 16 tornadoes. And in the long, dark winters, we are certainly accustomed to heavy snowfall, ice storms, and high winds. The aftermath of these weather events often brings the unmistakable clamor of chainsaws clearing the debris of our venerable but fallen maple, oak, and pine trees.
Happily, incredible beauty can arise in the aftermath of wicked weather when talented artisans wield those same chainsaws to create stunning sculptures from the stumps of felled trees.
Self-taught chainsaw artist Scott Kuefler of Chesterfield, near New Baltimore, has been creating his works of beauty for 20 years. What drew him to his profession? “Art and chainsaws were the attraction,” says Kuefler, who is the recipient of numerous first-place state awards as well as fifth-place honors in an international competition held in Japan in 2007.
While he often carves freestanding sculptures of wildlife or human figures from the logs he recycles from tree services, he doesn’t shy away from the challenge of creating visions of beauty from the remains of trees left standing after a storm.
A highlight of Kuefler’s career occurred in 2013, when Nicole Curtis, host of the HGTV show Rehab Addict, contacted him to tap into his expertise. A storm had pushed through the Detroit neighborhood where she was filming a show, downing a large maple.
Kuefler, who works with his brother Rodney and son Scott Jr., carved the 11-foot-tall stump into a stunning vertical garden featuring flowers, vines, mushrooms, and bees.
He says it’s impossible to choose a favorite among his works, though he’s always tempted to say the answer to that question is, “The next carving I do.”
Kuefler is heartened that chainsaw art is being elevated to its rightful place of honor these days instead of dismissing it with the preconceived “it’s just folk art” notion. “With more and more artists around the world, it is being brought to a whole new level,” he says.
Two other Michiganders helping to promote the art are life partners Marie Serafin and Jon Mykkanen of Johannesburg, about 10 miles east of Gaylord. A builder of hand-scribed log cabins for more than 30 years, Mykkanen was inspired by the work of a friend and started carving in 2008.
“As with a lot of folks in this day and age, there comes a point when you want to quit your job and do something else. During a muddy spring, with little to do while waiting for the building season to begin, I gathered up some chunks of wood, stood them on end, and started carving,” he says. “It became something of an obsession, and it soon became clear that in order to get good at this, I’d have to give up building and devote myself full time to learning the craft.”
Initially, Serafin put the finishing touches on Mykkanen’s work with paints and oils, but she also learned to carve when orders began piling up. “Up until then, I had never even started a chainsaw,” she says.
The couple works primarily out of a shop they built on their Lazy Acres farm, but, for the past 13 years, they have traveled throughout the state and to Wisconsin and Canada for projects.
“We tend to work separately on the smaller pieces and then team up on the larger stump jobs,” Serafin says. “It helps to have eyes on the ground to get the proper perspective as we develop the design from the top down. It’s difficult to judge what the carving looks like when you’re standing 14 feet up and just two feet away from the tree.”
The profession requires both strength and stamina, considering that carvers can work 10–12-hour days on a stump and saws range from 8.5 to over 18 pounds. But the satisfaction of re-creating something beautiful out of the ruins of a mature tree is ultimately fulfilling.
“It is a privilege to be able to salvage the stump and create works of art that will stand for years,” Serafin says.