Hewing his niche in the chainsaw art world
He confesses he’s irreversibly hooked.
“I will basically carve anything,” admitted Matt Ounsworth. “When the opportunity presents itself, I will carve ice. I’ve carved ice at Frozen Dead Guy Days in Nederland for the past few years. Every year we get at least 10 pumpkins to carve for Halloween.”
Watermelons aren’t even exempt from a stunning transformation by his hand: from vine-hanging, fruity summer treats to clever artistic renderings of incredibly rind-altering creatures.
But what really fires up this Fort Collins, Colo., artisit/craftsman is hosting a pugilistic bout of Big Tree Chunk vs. Snarling Chainsaw. His bear and cougar creations look ready to mimic that growly, wood chewing beast that digs them out of the timber — “Roar!”
Others, like eagles, owls and horses, appear noble, wise or stoic. It takes a true artist’s eye to visualize and insert personality into each piece.
Ounsworth’s own personality led him to Colorado in 2003 in search of adventure and mountain living. Both categories were in short supply in his back-East hometown of Philadelphia, Pa. So, Westward Ho!
While attending Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Ounsworth met Amanda Broz; they married and now have a toddler son, Henry.
It was Amanda who actually encouraged her husband’s fledgling carving skills when she came across an old book of his about carving bears. She wanted one. She requested. He obliged. He was hooked.
“I had so much fun that it became a bit of an obsession,” Ounsworth said. “We still have that bear in front of our house!”
A past occupation as a professional arborist for 15 years had made him proficient and comfortable working around trees and chainsaws. His urban upbringing, however, didn’t exactly hone mountaineering skills, or provide insight into the souls of wild creatures. That took up-close experience in the presence of real wildlife. In fact, he now feels pretty much at home around Colorado’s feral creatures.
Quips Ounsworth, “I’ve had many ‘city slicker’ moments over the years. I might be more scared of livestock than of wild animals!”
Doing business as Curly Fern Studio, he’s added more talents to his five years of full-time chainsaw tree carving art by (pun intended) branching out to include drawing/painting.
“I’ve found the two go hand-in-hand,” he explained. “This year I’m starting to put some watercolor paintings up for sale in Glen Haven.”
Ounsworth has a shop in that picturesque northern Colorado foothills town where he sells to locals and tourists alike. But he frequently takes his show on the road to statewide events and competitions, where he excels.
“In 2008, I took first place at Chainsaws and Chuckwagons, the Frederick, Colo., carving competition, and first place at a Carve Wars event in Aurora, Colo., during its Pumpkin Chunkin Festival,” recalled the artist.
Ounsworth also won the 2017 “Whittle the Wood” competition in Craig, Colo., as well as meriting its Artists’ and People’s Choice top awards. This by-invitation event held at Loudy Simpson Park, also welcomed Ounsworth in 2019; he won second place overall out of 12 artists.
Other awards in past years came in Rifle, Gunnison, and Colorado Springs.
The mighty chainsaw might be ranked Major General but certainly not the only implement in the small army of tools Ounsworth commands. He has hand-carved 6-inch to 12-inch cottonwood bark pieces that require the delicate use of knives and/or die grinders and dremmel. Many of these imaginative works are faces, sometimes called “wood spirits.”
From those petites, Ounsworth carves his way right on up to a 16-foot tall mountain lion and soaring eagle, plus other giants.
Prices for his creations range from as low as $20 for smaller pieces to several thousand dollars for large ones. Clients can also commission custom work and onsite services are available at a reasonable rate.
Time is a huge factor in wood carving. Ounsworth acknowledges he’s reliant on the wood, which he claims sometimes does most of the work for him. Other times, there are “fun little obstacles like nails and rotten wood” that test his hewing patience.
Take, for example, quick carves. These are competitive speed events in which participants have one-hour to complete their entries. “Carvings can be made very quickly; but, on the flip side, mistakes can also be made very quickly,” Ounsworth said. “It’s a balance.”
Most of his customers are local individuals, businesses, and folks from neighboring states. In fact, he has sold so many pieces over the years, he can’t quite come up with a grand total.
“Because of my proximity to Rocky Mountain National Park, I get to meet people from all over the world. It really is fun,” Ounsworth said. “Some of my smaller carvings have made their way to some far-off places.”
Naturally, these natural wood sculptures are naturals for the outdoors. But they do require upkeep.
“I use Spar urethane on all my carvings and, if the carving is outdoors, I recommend applying a new coat once a year,” Ounsworth suggested. “If you live in an area with a lot of freeze-thaw, like up in the mountains, I recommend covering your carvings or bringing them inside (in adverse weather),” he added.
— Metzger is a freelance writer from Fort Collins, Colo. She can be reached at email@example.com.