by CHRIS ROGERS
Molly Wiste went from oil paints to bar and chain oil. In place of a painter’s smock, she wears ear protection and a bandana to keep from breathing in sawdust. Her palette is a pickup bed full of different chainsaws.
Wiste, a Winona native and Winona State University graduate, got talked into chainsaw carving. The art form is a big deal in the Northwoods, and her new home, Hackensack, Minn., hosts an annual festival with lumberjack games and live chainsaw carving. When Hackensack carver Ross Olsen heard that Wiste was an art teacher, he told her she must learn chainsaw carving and compete in the festival. “At first I laughed it off, but then I decided, if he is offering free carving lessons, I should probably take him up on it,” Wiste said. Now Wiste has travelled as far as Australia to compete in chainsaw-carving contests, the Houston Owl Center has commissioned her work, and she launched a podcast all about chainsaw carving. She will be the only female artist headlining the 2018 Hackensack Chainsaw Event. “At first, [my students] thought it was cool,” Wiste said of her newfound talent. “And now they say, ‘Oh, yeah. She does that.’”
The saws Wiste uses are normal chainsaws outfitted with special bars designed for carving — short and tapered on the end for detail work. As Wiste carved a post at her father’s Winona property on Monday, she inched the tip of the bar toward the sculpted figure, defining the figure’s flowing hair and sending flakes of wood flying through the air. Manipulating a chainsaw takes a little more effort than a paintbrush. “I would say it’s both art and athletic sport combined,” Wiste said.
Wiste had done little carving or sculpture before her foray into chainsaw art. Oil painting was her craft. Now, however, she is sold on chainsaw carving. “I like being able to create something you can hold and interact with,” she said. Now when Wiste paints or creates other two-dimensional art, she is always wishing it had another side.
“I kind of feel like chainsaw carving has been viewed as the roadside carver making little bears,” Wiste said. She refers to the top chainsaw carvers as sculptors, adding, “The pieces they create are so far beyond carving a little bear.” Wiste continued, “For some reason, it’s not as respected in the art world as a form of sculpture. So I started the podcast to push the art form and to just talk with different carvers.”
Titled simply, “Chainsaw Carving,” Wiste has interviewed champion chainsaw carver Steve Higgins on her podcast and chatted with Alabama carver Heather Bailey about the challenges of being an artist and a mom. “Now for me, just as I’m getting older and having a family, it’s daycare. I realized that’s my [biggest] obstacle,” Bailey said, laughing.
Wiste is enthusiastic about the future of chainsaw carving. Carvers are pulling from other media and styles of art to expand the horizons for what chainsaw carving can be, she stated. “I’m really excited to see more acceptance in the art world,” Wiste added. “There are chainsaw carvers getting their work into art galleries now and that’s really exciting.”
More information is available at www.wistewoodworks.com.