Bear Jones uses a chainsaw to reveal artistic masterpieces hidden in recycled wood
Story and photos by Laura Brookhart
The last year has brought Bear Jones fully onto new paths of possibility.
He has earned his bachelor’s degree in project management administration, graduated valedictorian of his class of 2015 and been active as president of the National Honor Society.
Along the way, Jones, who was born in Florida, raised in New York and has lived in Alabama since 2000, has incorporated freelance work in construction and landscaping irrigation as well as work with Southern Company Services in electrical design.
In May, after moving to Montevallo, he took up a new venture—wood working with a chainsaw—a creative outlet he had thought about over the past seven years and knew he wanted to pursue.
The week before the November Artstalk, working from the dried cedar trees accumulated in his backyard, he “carved out” time to work on a series of sculptures.
The result was a bounteous vignette of fall-themed carvings—cornucopias and pumpkins eye-catchingly styled by his wife, V. Jones.
“Much of my work is experimental. I enjoy finding the object within the tree that calls to me and puzzling out the best technique to bring it forth,” Jones said.
In the fourth grade, he was reprimanded for not paying attention in art class where the usual elementary grade coloring projects were taught. Fortunately, he was then placed in the sophomore-senior art classes, where he further was able to develop his level of skill.
“Working in wood requires inverse thinking,” he explained. “You are not adding clay balls to clay balls to make an object. Rather, I think of the chainsaw as a great eraser.”
There are two methodologies of chainsaw artists—the “blockers” and the “whittlers.” Jones considers himself a whittler. “We shave, shape and whittle to extricate the final object,” he said.
He prefers to finalize each of his carvings from a single piece of wood and recalls that his first carving was of an eagle that began as a fence post. He was disappointed to find within an area of rot that resulted in the final proportions being imperfect.
At Artstalk, his alligator, named Matilda, attracted attention lying in the grass next to the sidewalk. “This was my second carving. I started with the head and added the body detail after studying online images of real alligators. I have been criticized for ‘doing too much detail,’ which surprises me,” Jones added.
Another sculpture shown at Artstalk was a snowman, also formed from a single log, except for the nose and branch arms. It was purchased along with an order for a second snowman to be given as a gift. The snowmen will be left unvarnished, so that the cedar fragrance may still be enjoyed.
Cedar naturally provides reds (the heartwood), yellows and browns and Jones adds definitive shading in deeper tones with a blowtorch.
“I use only reclaimed or recycled trees and wood; no live trees are sacrificed for my work,” Jones said. “People call me when they have felled or fallen trees, which I am happy to retrieve.”
In his backyard currently is an experimental work in progress that began as a hollow log.
“My first idea was to make it into a bookshelf, then V. and I realized the potential for a one-of-a-kind wine rack. It will hold eight bottles of wine and the top will be carved grape leaves and grapes; the bottom will be tree roots.”
Jones will also add a built-in removable cedar tray fitted into the top from which glasses of wine and cheeses may be served.
Another developing idea is a bistro table and chairs that will incorporate luminescent powder encased in epoxy within its base to create a glow at night.
“You’re not going to find this anywhere else,” he smiled.
Contact Bear at email@example.com or visit his Facebook page at Facebook.com/southernchains.