Ever since he was a kid growing up in the wilds of Libby, Ron Adamson has been carving out space for his personality and passions to grow and evolve.
One of his first jobs was grading lumber at a local mill — a proud lumber tradition shared by his uncles, dad, and grandfathers — and the young Adamson realized he could whittle away his break time by using small hand tools to scrape faces out of otherwise nondescript wood.
“I was a nonsmoker and back then the break rooms turned blue (with smoke) so I just stayed out and used my time that way,” Adamson said last week.
What was a hobby to relax during work without having to inhale cigarette smoke turned into much more once Adamson realized his knack for woodcarving complemented his painter’s eye for composition and design.
“I didn’t want to stay in the mill. I wanted to be an artist from the time I was a little kid, and that was not easy in Libby,” he said. “I started as a painter. You couldn’t paint in the lumber mill, but I could carve in the lumber mill. I learned to carve with people watching me.”
What started with tiny hand tools to bring faces to life in pieces of wood the size of a baseball would eventually become Adamson standing on a ladder carving out characters in a 40-foot tree with a chainsaw.
Being able to create in public would become an important skill for Adamson, who is now organizing the first Libby Chainsaw Event to celebrate the creative nature of an otherwise straightforward lawn tool.
From Sept. 20-23, Adamson and at least four other carvers, including his son, Jeff Adamson, will demonstrate their artwork and teach the techniques needed to be a chainsaw master.
The event takes place several blocks east of the Libby McDonald’s, and a few blocks west of Empire Foods on U.S. Highway 2.
All artists are invited to participate and sell their wares, Adamson said. The event is free to the public.
Before he got into the chainsaw arts, Adamson ran a bronze foundry. Out of this came arguably his most famous piece of art: the iconic “Standin’ On The Corner In Winslow, Arizona” bronze statue located on a corner in the town made famous by the Eagles’ song, “Take It Easy.” The statue celebrates its 20th anniversary this month.
“When I first did that, I got a lot of publicity. I did one of the most famous bronzes in the western United States, and then that was it,” Adamson said. “But as the internet came about and people started taking selfies, the statue’s popularity grew.”
Working in bronze had its pros and cons, Adamson said, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that the chainsaw showed up in his life as an artist’s tool. He’d been hired to carve knife handles for a wealthy patron in 1992, when the client decided he wanted Adamson to make a statue out of a 40-foot tree on his Colorado property.
On the drive to Colorado, Adamson bought a chainsaw in Idaho, and then showed up to climb a ladder and begin carving two Native American figures and a mountain man. A few years later, while serving as a judge in a chainsaw competition, Adamson experienced the real potential of the art form for the first time.
“When I saw how a chainsaw could be used for carving, it changed my outlook,” Adamson said. “I live in Libby; I’m a self-taught artist. I’ve never really been out where I’ve been in fine arts.”
Adamson said he wants to share this moment of inspiration with anyone who wants to stop by the Libby Chainsaw Event, where he’ll be teaching and carving. It’s a good fit for Libby, he said, with the logging and timber industry as such major pieces of this blue-collar town’s history. Anyone who wants to set up at the event — which isn’t a competition — can call Adamson at (406) 291-4112.
“There are a lot of wood carvers here,” he said. “Come and watch, come and learn, come and teach, and come and sell.”
For more information on Ron Adamson, visit www.ronadamson.com.