Keystone is home to one of world’s largest carvings

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

By Bev Pechan

Chainsaw carver Jarrett Dahl says he isn’t sure if his is the largest in the world, “But I know it is in the top five,” he said recently of his 25-foot tall Indian and eagle figure displayed in Keystone. The work, completely carved from head to base, shows a kneeling Indian warrior with arms stretched skyward holding an eagle whose wings are raised in flight. It is illuminated at night and draws a steady crowd of onlookers -- mostly vacationers to Mount Rushmore, who now have more than the colossal four faces to marvel about.
 Jarrett and Jordan Dahl are brothers who grew up on a farm in Dawson, Minn., played high school sports and did all the normal things their peers did. But in 2004, Jarrett accompanied a friend to Alaska for the summer, where the other boy’s uncle had set up shop as a chainsaw artist. Curious, Jarrett asked about the craft, and after he had carved his first bear, he knew what he wanted to do for a living. He spent the next three summers in Alaska, perfecting his art and receiving critiques from his mentor, Scott Hanson. He got so good at it that in 2006, Jarrett won the Alaska People’s Choice award for his signature piece, “Fighting Eagles,” which shows two eagles with wings spread in combat over a fish. In 2007, Jarrett won the Alaska state championship and last winter, Jarrett, Jordan and brother-in-law Ross Inselmen tried a new media and won the Carver’s Choice Award in ice sculpture at the St. Paul Winter Carnival and a second place in the Professional Singles category there.
Jordan later joined his older brother in the business and the pair carve all winter in Minnesota to have enough inventory for summer sales in the Black Hills, in addition to custom orders through Cabela’s and individual customers. Dr. Duane Pankratz, who reportedly discovered the brothers Dahl through Cabela’s, has turned over a grassy, creekside corner of his Rushmore Borglum Story attraction for the brothers to display their growing inventory of woodenworks. Their creations are also displayed at the Terry Redlin Art Museum in Watertown and the Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul.
So far as giant chainsaw sculptures go, data obtained from several websites indicates that Jarrett Dahl’s may, in fact, be the world’s largest chainsaw figure. Several locations in England and Wales claim large figures of 18 to 20–feet, mostly depicting wizards and owls, but they are not carved from top-to-bottom and instead may have one or two smaller figures on the same base with several feet of polished trunk in-between. Dahl says that height, width-of-trunk and size of the base all come into play in determining the final dimensions for a record. He says he knows of another in Pine City, Minn., that is perhaps around 25 to 30-feet tall with an 8-foot diameter.
The Keystone warrior measures 6 ½ - feet at the base and is 7 ½ feet wide. It weighs 30,000 pounds and is valued at $50,000. Jarrett’s parents, Wayne and Laura Dahl, who farm in Cerro Gordo Township near Dawson, knew of a huge cottonwood tree on an abandoned neighboring farm that could be acquired. Getting the tree transported to be carved was no easy task. “I had 14 (full) days of actual carving on it,” Jarrett said. When it was time to head for Keystone, the massive former tree and a companion 18-foot tall work with three eagles on a spinning base were loaded onto a Viessman flatbed by a boom truck. In Keystone, they were mounted on concrete slabs facing Highway 16A for the enjoyment of passers-by.
Mostly, Jarrett said, he works with white pine because of its adaptability, though he has also used black walnut and some maple. “Spruce is great,” he added. “We are always looking for wood,” Jarrett said. “Pine – beetle-killed pine is best – dead, dried and standing, as long as it’s not dead for too long. It needs to be winter cut,” he said.  White pine is the best of the pine family as it is soft and once it dries, cures well. For the tourist trade, by far the most popular items created are the Welcome Bears. Eagles are second in favorite themes. Color is added by spraying and finishes used are primarily tung oil or spar varnish.
Returning to the “world’s largest” question, Jarrett said he hasn’t really thought about seeking out that status, but with information from so many cyberspace resources today and communications exchanged from other chainsaw artists around the world, the truth is out there somewhere.