It's a rainy day at a chainsaw art gallery just south of Austin city limits and Doug Moreland is contemplating the creation of Waylon Jennings.
"I only got part of his hat started then I got distracted," Moreland says, motioning toward a hunk of wood in the work station of his Cattlac's Chainsaw Art Gallery, underneath a sign that reads "Texas Chainsaw Masters."
In a matter of hours, he'll wield a Stihl chainsaw and transform this giant log into one of the most iconic men in country music history. When it's finished, the wooden Waylon will go to the lucky customer who ordered an entire set of The Highwaymen, the Mount Rushmore of country music created from cedar and pine. (The Willie Nelson is already finished. Kristofferson and Cash are still to come.)
It's all in a day's work for Moreland, who spends his nights singing and fiddling in his Texas swing band Doug Moreland and the Flying Armadillos. His days are reserved for making art with chainsaws.
"There's not very many chainsaw carving fiddle players out there," Moreland says, laughing. "It's either a real small world or people aren't that inventive."
The Art of the Saw
Moreland says he started chainsaw carving as "a way to make money without getting a real job." After seeing some friends carve in Ruidoso, N.M., he picked up the chainsaw and never looked back.
"I tried it and I carved a bear with one of their chainsaws and sold it right away," Moreland says. "Then I carved another one and sold it right away. I went and told the whole band -- I said 'I got it!' We canceled all our gigs and bought chainsaws and went to East Tennessee to carve."
If you thought chainsaws were only for loggers and sadistic murderers in horror films, think again. Chainsaw art, which pairs the modern chainsaw with the centuries old craft of woodcarving, is one of the fastest growing artforms. The Chainsaw Rendezvous in Ridgway, Penn., the world's largest chainsaw carving festival, draws over 200 carvers from around the world.
"Just in the past 20 years it's really taken off and it's become highly refined," Moreland says. "It used to be a novelty because you made something with a chainsaw because a chainsaw is this big, crude instrument. But nowadays there's some really fine-tuned chainsaws. You can do a lot of detail and fast. So guys are making some really fascinating sculptures."
Moreland opened Cattlac's in 2003 on a former cotton field in Manchaca, Texas that has been in his family since the 1860s. There Moreland tools away, making everything from armadillos to cowboy boots to the Red Headed Stranger.
Soon after, Moreland joined up with R.L. Blair, one of the godfathers of the chainsaw art carving world. Blair, who's been carving since 1970 and crafted wood carvings for Disney theme parks, sells his handmade chicken houses on the property.
Fiddles and Chainsaws
Chainsaw art is really the perfect trade for a traveling musician. Moreland has even traded his art for a set of wheels: a 1986 ambulance later renovated into a camper van, or "campbulance."
"There's been times over the years when I'm traveling and I'll carve just to make some merchandise," Moreland says, laughing.
These days Moreland's near constant stream of custom order requests keeps him busy and covered in sawdust. His work is turning up all over Texas and beyond. His statue of Austin music legend and jazz guitarist Slim Richey now stands in the Starlight Theater in Terlingua, Texas. He's currently working on a carving of a large guitar for the 2017 Mack, Jack and McConaughey Gala.
Texas festivals, such as Cuero's Turkeyfest, frequently order custom art pieces from Moreland.
In the video below, Moreland demonstrates how to carve a cowboy boot.
Now Moreland's setting his sights on traveling full time, doing live chainsaw demonstrations and playing music. When you're the world's only singing, fiddling chainsaw artist, it's just part of the gig.
To request a chainsaw art piece from Doug Moreland, contact him here.
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