NORTH SMITHFIELD – Randy Burt has worked in construction for most of his life, but four years ago, he found a new use for his power tools.
“My first bear was back around 2016. I’m not really sure what made me carve it,” he said. “I had a chainsaw and there was the log.”
Thus began Tree of Life Chainsaw Carvings. That first carving went to family – his wife’s sister saw it, fell in love, and claimed it for her front porch.
“She started dressing it up, putting scarves on it,” Burt recalls.
People saw it, liked it, and wanted one of their own. The business just took off from there.
At facebook.com/TreeofLifeChainsawCarving you’ll find a menagerie of furry creatures that have been finding their way into yards and onto porches throughout northern Rhode Island. The animals that Burt carves are at home in the woods here – one look at his inquisitive raccoons, brooding owls and his burly bears, and it’s easy to see how they have gained an audience. The work has a quality that is both rustic and appealingly whimsical. Burt says that most of his work comes from word of mouth; pieces are commissioned from all over. He’s even done a few business signs.
“I did a large ice cream cone for a shop in Chepachet,” he said, adding that he’s also done some carvings for campgrounds.
Burt’s wooden logs are found in the local woods – he works with what is at hand. He also responds to customer’s requests.
“I do occasionally carve stumps still rooted in the ground if someone has a dead one, a hazard, or a tree with sentimental value,” said Burt. “We can come out and carve something from the wood, whether it be a bear, eagle, owl, or your pet dog or cat. We can do just about anything.”
Burt lives in North Smithfield with his wife and three daughters. His girls, ages 10, 13, and 15, are very into what Dad does.
“They like to paint,” said Burt.
His oldest daughter, Jasmine, is on the Northmen track team and is often written up in sports news.
“She made it to state,” the proud father said.
With a full time job and a family, what motivates Burt to work in his spare time?
“I really enjoy doing it,” he said. ”I like to challenge myself.”
He said he works intuitively, and the wood sometimes dictates the form.
“I can be surprised with the outcome,” Burt said.
In 2018, Burt started an open facebook group, The Carvers of Rhode Island, to share different tips, equipment, and techniques with others in the field. So far, it has gathered 43 members.
For the most part, Burt’s only tools are a chainsaw and an angle grinder, sometimes a dremmel. He’s never had any formal training. He uses pigments and finishes he’s familiar with – latex paint and exterior urethane for the outdoor sculptures and regular polyurethane for the inside ones.
But Burt has spent a lot of time reading on his own, doing drawings and studying the animals he will carve, from every angle. The style of his work shows a familiarity with nature that is reminiscent of Native American carvings. It was not a surprise to hear that Burt has thought about doing a totem pole. He recently started combining logs to make larger pieces and showed us a bear hewn out of a section from a giant tree.
“This is actually two parts,” he said, “I’ll be putting them together, then adding the legs and a mountain base. It’ll be around 12 feet to 15 feet tall when it’s done.”
The piece, he said, is for a friend who owns a tree service.
The construction business is the one area of the economy that has been booming since the pandemic began, and it’s tough now finding time to carve, but Burt is finishing some orders for the holidays. We asked him what plans he had for the future.
“The construction is full time,” he told NRI NOW, “so this can just be a hobby right now.”
But the demand is there, and Burt is thinking ahead. He has taken steps to secure a domain name and establish a site that is awaiting construction when there’s a lull in his contracting schedule.
In the meantime, if Burt has a spare minute, a chainsaw, and a log, he will keep doing what comes naturally – carving woodland critters that make people happy.
Visit Burt’s facebook page at facebook.com/TreeofLifeChainsawCarving.