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Mount Ayr Record-News
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa
Thursday, January 19, 2006

Sculpture taking shape on square

by Alan Smith

The remains of an elm tree on Ringgold county courthouse lawn is being transformed into a sculpture of an eagle and a Liberty bell by chain saw artist Gary KEENAN of Des Moines.

No, it's not a rabbit, as some people surmised after KEENAN did some preliminary work on what have now become wings for the eagle.

Making use of two branches left when the tree was cut down, KEENAN is transforming the remains of the tree into a sculpture which will grace the courthouse lawn for a long time.

Late Monday afternoon the eagle was pretty much completed and KEENAN was shaping the Liberty bell and the stand for the sculpture, which will include the Ringgold county name.

Keenan has been doing the chain saw sculpting for just four years but has quickly gained a following for his efforts.

There's an interesting story how KEENAN got started in his sculpting business.

He had been working with a now former girlfriend to make art projects to be used in Sunday school classes and recognized some artistic skills.

One winter the girlfriend sculpted a polar bear out of snow, and as they discussed doing the same thing the next winter, they decided that it would be fun to have a fish to go in the polar bear's mouth.

About this time he saw his first chain saw carver at work, and decided he would try making the fish that way. He soon had carved a fish out of a stump in his driveway.

The winter never brought enough show to build the polar bear to go with the fish, but an interest in the carving had been born.

He played around with sculpting in his driveway that summer, people saw what he was doing and wanted to buy some of the pieces, and his new career took off from there.

In the summer of 2004, KEENAN turned to the sculpting as a full-time occupation and hasn't looked back since.

Many of the pieces he does are on the remains of trees in people's yards. Wildlife carving is the most popular with bears and eagles leading the way. Raccoons, owls, squirrels and other animals are popular as well.

He has done other kinds of objects as well. A four-foot tennis racket he carved is in the front lawn of an Urbandale tennis fanatic and he has done NASCAR themed sculptures as well.

As well as working on sculptures like the one on the Ringgold county courthouse lawn, KEENAN travels to fairs, festivals and open houses to do his work.

He plans to take trips to chain saw carving competitions in England and Scotland again this fall. At the competitons, the carvers have twoand a half to three days to complete a carving, with the carving then being judged.

"Sometimes there is a theme on which the judging is partially based," he said. "Other items like quality and artistic appeal are part of the judging as well."

There were 54 carvers from 12 countries in the English competition last year and about half that many in a Scottish event he attended. He also attends an October event in Quincy, IL, which is one of the major competitions in the United States. The other top competitions are held in Washington and Oregon.

Using different sized chain saws to do the actual work takes some skill at keeping the saws running as well. KEENAN has a variety of saws, chains and parts that he uses to keep the work progressing on site.

A sculpture of a bear is carried along in the truck he uses on the job as well, a calling card for his work.

He also has a set of scaffolding he uses to get him to the heights he needs to be to work on the carving.

With the weather and other obligations, KEENAN has worked on the sculpture several half days this past month.

"It should take about three full days of work to complete a project like this," he estimated.

Supervisors liked the idea of an eagle from the stump, but KEENAN suggested the addition of the Liberty bell because of the size of the stump, and the supervisors agreed.

Payment for the $750 project is coming from county funds.

KEENAN was able to use the grain of the wood to provide a white head and white tail feathers for the eagle he carved. Over time, weathering will make the difference in the wood color less evident, however, he said.

After the wood has a chance to dry, KEENAN has left instructions for applying varnish to the sculpture to help kee it preserved for a longer time.

"It's sad that a big elm tree had to come down, but I hope the sculpture will leave something lasting in its place," he said.

Mount Ayr Record-News
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa
Thursday, February 9, 2006

New Sculpture Completed

A chain saw sculpture of an eagle and the Liberty Bell has been completed, turning what was a tree stump into a public art work on the south side of the courthouse. Chain saw sculptor Gary KEENAN finished up the project recently. Snow which fell Monday night dusted the sculpture as winter showed that it still had some kick left.

Photographs courtesy of Mount Ayr Record-News

Transcriptions by Sharon R. Becker, October of 2010


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