Near the main entrance of the Cumming Fairgrounds, visitors may hear chainsaws revving and smell sawdust in the air, but it’s not just for hard work; it’s for artwork.
“I’m basically doing performance art, live chainsaw art three times a day and four on Saturday,” said “Master of the Chainsaw” Brian Ruth. “I stand up a log … and 45 minutes, maybe an hour later it’s entirely carved.”
Since 1979, Ruth has traveled the world turning logs into works of art, most often pieces like wolves, bears, owls and eagles. For years, he has been a staple of the Cumming Country Fair & Festival, where his works will be auctioned off on the final Saturday of festivities.
Ahead of the first day of the fair on Thursday, Ruth was cutting two long logs into smaller, more manageable pieces and preparing for his first show.
Ruth said he got his start after first watching a co-worker carve an owl. Until then, he had never considered mixing woodworking with art.
“I always was interested in artwork and woodworking, and I loved chainsaws so I got a job doing tree work,” he said. “One day, I actually saw a guy actually carving an animal. I’d cut out tables and chairs, but I never thought to actually sculpt with it until I saw somebody else.”
His first try was an owl that did he admits “wound up in the chipper,” but Ruth said it didn’t take long before he was carving full-time.
“It was only about a year,” Ruth said. “My first carving was a year before I graduated Villanova with a business degree, so my last year of college I had to decide what I was doing for a living. I thought IBM should be telling me why I should work for them, so I thought, ‘Maybe I should just work for myself.’”
Over the next 38 years, chainsaw art has taken Ruth across the United States and across the world, including stops in Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan, where he is heading after the fair.
“I’ve been going to Japan since 1995,” Ruth said. “I set up the first chainsaw art competition and the first teaching classes, and the art form has really exploded over there.”
To get the cuts he wants, Ruth said he usually has “three or four saws running at a time” and doesn’t stop until the show is over.
“I don’t look up from my chainsaw,” he said. “I can’t tell you if there is one person watching or 200, but Lisa [his girlfriend, who paints his work] often sits out in the audience incognito and listens to the comments, and usually they’re just kind of amazed at the speed and the accuracy of the work and the detail I can get in 45 minutes.”