Chainsaw artist carves out creations

Six summers ago, Jason Smathers visited his dad in North Carolina and ended up face to face with a bear.

Jason Smathers transforms a Coulter pine tree along Buckley’s Foothills Trail into a statue of playful raccoons.

Six summers ago, Jason Smathers visited his dad in North Carolina and ended up face to face with a bear.

His life hasn’t been the same.

That’s when Smathers, of Bonney Lake, picked up the art of chainsaw carving.

“My father got me started when I was 26,” he said. “I picked up a chainsaw and followed him cut for cut. The next thing you know, there was a free-standing bear!”

What began as a hobby quickly transformed into a reputable business that keeps the chips flying where they may and leaving Smathers with a forest full of Pacific Northwest wildlife and outdoor decor.

“I came home and the (carvings) progressed, mainly from word of mouth,” he said. “I try to put myself out there wherever to get the most exposure.”

That exposure led him to an opportunity to donate carvings along the Foothills Trail for the City of Buckley nearly three years ago. With the city pondering the future of three potentially dangerous 40-year-old Coulter pines, Smathers took chainsaw to hand and presented its citizens with three statues that featured bears, an eagle and raccoons – along with the city’s name carved into the side.

It was a win-win for everyone.

“Those trees had cones that were about 12 inches long and weighed up to 10 pounds,” said Mayor Pat Johnson. With its sharp cones and one tree leaning precariously over the adjacent trail, Councilman Bob Olsen suggested having them carved, she said, and soon discovered using Smather’s talent as a possible solution.

“We just said, ‘go for it,’” she said. “He donated his time for the city.”

It was a win-win for both Smathers and Buckley.

“Art is something that is very controversial in cities,” Johnson said. “We’d like to (display) a little more public work but our resources don’t allow it. Now, people are realizing the value of it and they’d like to see more.”

“I love them,” she said of the carvings.

Smathers said the most popular carvings are bears, followed by eagles, wolves and salmon. He uses a variety of tools to smooth out the final project: sanders and chisels, along with routers for detail work, he said.

He applies diligence and vision to his work.

“The average time for a creation can range from 15 minutes to five days, depending on the size and detail of the carving,” he said. “The best kind of wood to carve would be western red cedar, due to the fact that it’s a soft wood and it’s easy to find in our area.”

While he powers up on his work, Smathers makes sure to carve out a little time for fun; he’s participated in the Buckley Log Show, the Old Mills Days in Port Gamble, Wash. in team competition and the Burning Bear Show in Ocean City, Wash.

Some of the biggest highlights to his career include the Sand and Sawdust competition in Ocean Shores, Wash. There, he took first place and earned semi-pro status for his entry of a deep-sea diver and treasure chest, both being pulled to the surface by a dolphin.

That kind of creativity is what drives Smathers to put his chainsaws into full throttle.

“It’s kind of my own gig,” he said. “I don’t have to conform. It’s kind of out of my own head. It’s my own creation to do with what I want.”

Jason Smathers can be contacted at netjay@netzeo.com or 360-346-0084.

Reach Judy Halone at 360-802-8210 or jhalone@courierherald.com.

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