Rrrmmm, Rrrmmmm, Beezzzzzz Beezz Beezzzzzzzzzz If you were walking the streets of Ridgway, PA in late February, you’d be very familiar with these sounds of chainsaws. From the steps of the court house to the banks of the Clarion River, chainsaws were cutting up every available log in sight. Approximately 200 carvers had come from nine countries around the world to rendezvous in Ridgway for a week long get-together. This was the 14th annual Ridgway Chainsaw Carvers Rendezvous.
After outgrowing their former venues, this year the event was held right downtown on three city streets as well as three parking areas. Lining both sides of the closed streets, people could wander from one carver’s work area to the next and watch creatures of all shapes and sizes being carved from a variety of woods.
When most people think of chainsaw carving, they think of carved bears. From the cutest bear cub carved by Zoe Boni to the most exquisite, ten-foot long, three bear bar with wooden top and foot rail by Dennis Beech, there was certainly no shortage of bears; and there was hardly a single species not carved. Dogs, cats, fox, mountain lions, frogs, snakes, spiders, butterflies, birds of every description, Indians, pirates and an occasional mermaid were all represented. Chairs, sofas, benches and the proverbial kitchen sink were also found amongst the creations. Vivian Sierzega-rouse from Woodbine, Maryland kept the kids amazed with her bobblehead, chainsaw-carved animals.
The Rendezvous is not a competition, as many believe. Instead, it is a chance for carvers to compare notes, share techniques and display their talents to the thousands of visitors that come to see their collective talent. In the mornings, carvers gather to attend classes put on by their peers and to learn more about the craft. The mother of one carver mentioned that her son had learned most everything he knows about carving from the lessons taught each year at this Ridgway tradition. He now carves as a full-time occupation. (If you have an interest in learning the craft, you can view the video archives here.)
Friday night during the 2013 festival, the Rendezvous added a new feature – a special pyrotechnic show held at Lazy River Canoe Rental & Bike Shop on the shores of the Clarion River. Cima Bue came from Callicoon Center, NY to put on this “close-up” show. Fountains and mines were as close as 10 yards from the spectators and provided a different experience than watching a typical fireworks show. Hundreds of Chinese lanterns were also supposed to be released, but had to be cancelled due to the breeze.
The second Saturday of the event saw the conclusion of the Rendezvous with horse-drawn carriage rides and a huge auction. Each carver donates one piece to the event, and proceeds from the auction help fund the event for the following year. With two hundred pieces to be auctioned, there was a smorgasbord of choices and most pieces looked phenomenal. While a few crowd favorites went in the thousands of dollars, many beautiful pieces also went for under a hundred dollars. If you were looking for a “steal of a deal,” you should have been there.
Started in 1999 by the Boni brothers, Rick & Randy gathered some friends and family to spend a weekend carving together in their backyard. After two years, Randy moved away, but the tradition continued, attracting more carvers year after year. The Rendezvous is now formally organized by Rick (a master carver, painter and musician) and his master-organizer wife, Liz. When the show is not going on, Liz, Rick and family operate the Appalachian Arts Studio atop Boot Jack Mountain, also in Ridgway.
With the help of the rest of the Boni family and dozens of volunteers, this event attracts tens of thousands of visitors to Ridgway and the surrounding areas in February each year. National acclaim of sorts came this year as carvers did a dance routine video for the Ellen Degeneres Show.
Typical of most small towns in eastern America, there’s not much happening in winter to fill restaurants, B&B’s and local antique stores. While the Rendezvous is going on however, plan to enjoy a drink while you wait for your table at the more popular restaurants. Last minute planners, expect to get a room some distance from town if you don’t have previous reservations. With no government funding, this major economic driver for Elk County, Pennsylvania shows what can be done by a few dedicated enthusiasts.
With an international reputation as the world’s largest chainsaw carving event, the Rendezvous promises to get bigger and better each year. Put a note on your calendar now for fall of this year, to secure a reservation for next February.
Doug Bardwell, based in Cleveland, OH, writes about travel destinations, photography and tech topics across the country and around the world at DougBardwell.com. Feel free to drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org with suggestions for future stories. To get his stories delivered to your inbox, click the RSS feed or the "Subscribe" button above or follow him on Facebook , Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. To read Doug’s disclosure notice, click here. For travel ideas in Cleveland and around the world, check his Calendar of Events. To see his travel photo collection, see BardwellPhotography.com.