Bonis present chainsaw carving rendezvous history
by Katherine Porter
On Monday morning, Liz and Rick Boni, founders of Ridgway's annual Chainsaw Carvers Rendezvous, gave a presentation on the history of the Rendezvous, from its humble beginnings in 1999 to the internationally-known event it has become in its 15th year.
"Right off the bat it was kind of an international flavor," said Liz Boni of the 1999 gathering.
The Bonis contacted Dennis Heath, a carver based out of the United Kingdom, and Holger Baer, a German artist, to see if they would be interested in coming to Ridgway and joining the then-small group of chainsaw sculptors for what would become the first of a string of carving Rendezvous.
Both expressed their interest, and joined by a few other carvers, the Rendezvous was born.
Following this small 1999 gathering, the Bonis decided to bring the little-celebrated art form to Ridgway, and since then, the world.
Each year, the Rendezvous has grown into a more in-depth event, featuring seminars for carvers and area residents to learn more about the art form as well as the artists themselves, aside from the carving exhibitions and auction.
Throughout its storied history, the Rendezvous has hosted carvers from countries all around the world who have continued to come back to participate in the event time and time again, including some who have attended all 15 happenings. At the time of the first Rendezvous held in 2000, the event was one of the only of its kind in the world.
The 2000 Rendezvous, the first "official" event, was held at Sandy Beach Park and brought in 33 carvers. At that time, it was termed the Mid-Winter Chainsaw Carving Rendezvous until it adopted its current name in 2002 when the event was moved to the firemen's grounds along North Broad Street.
"We muscled up to it and everybody put up with it," said Rick of the muddy conditions that seemed to be a recurring theme at the firemen's grounds each February. "Size-wise it was just getting packed down there."
By 2002, the event had grown to feature over 100 carvers and also hosted its first year of ice carving which was brought to the event by Wayne DeMoranville. DeMoranville, a Massachusetts native who creates both ice and wood carvings, was featured on the event T-shirt that year, which has since grown into a tradition with each year's T-shirt featuring a different influential Rendezvous artist.
By this time, an online forum, titled "The Carving Post," had been started by carver Joe King. The forum served as a way for carvers to keep in touch as they went their separate ways after the Rendezvous as well as share up and coming projects they had been working on throughout the year.
The 2003 Rendezvous featured 172 carvers, seeing carvers from both Australia and Japan that year for the first time. The T-shirt for 2003 depicted artist Brian Ruth and read "Life exceeding the dream." Ruth, along with Rick and Randy Boni, was a member of Masters of the Chainsaw, a group of the nation's top chainsaw sculptors. The group performs exhibitions as well as helps to further understanding about chainsaw sculpting as an art form.
Ruth introduced chainsaw carving as a performance art to the country of Japan in 1995 and has since established a division of the Masters of the Chainsaw there.
"Brian really did a lot to promote chainsaw carvers and to get them out there and be seen and get them paid for what they do," Liz said.
At that time Rick and Liz Boni were invited by Ruth to stay in Japan, where Rick assisted Ruth in introducing and teaching chainsaw carving there. That year, the chainsaw carving Rendezvous saw 23 carvers come from Japan, a nation that had not been represented at past events.
"It's amazing what this has done for the community," said Rick. "The kids are out here and kind of have a taste for the international in Ridgway. It really is amazing, the impact."
Another group, Chainsaw Chix, began as an offshoot of Masters of the Chainsaw, and features an elite group of female chainsaw carvers, including Aya Blaine, a Japan native, who is set to be featured on a Japanese reality television show this year. A camera crew will reportedly be at the Rendezvous filming Blaine doing her work on Friday.
"The family writes in and they tell them that their children are somewhere else pursuing their dream, so they go and film them," Liz said.
In 2005, the Rendezvous was expanded from a three-day event to a 10-day spectacle. Around this time, the event started to grow in scope and feature the seminars such as the one offered Monday.
"As the carver numbers grew and the international carvers started coming, they would come for 10 days so we decided we needed to make this a 10-day event," Liz said. "We needed to do seminars and other things in order to make this a worthy event to come to."
The extension of the event brought in even larger numbers internationally as well as more participants from the west coast to Ridgway than ever before. This offered a chance for artists across the nation as well as the globe to join together in one unifying event to celebrate their artistry.
By 2006, the event was still growing in numbers and hosted 185 carvers, featuring Jessie Groeschen, who also wrote a book titled "The Art of Chainsaw Carving," which features an inside look at carving as well as takes a closer look at artists such as J. Chester Armstrong, a Ridgway Chainsaw Carving Rendezvous participant.
Armstrong, a Berkley graduate, gave a seminar on creativity, which is now available as a three-part series on the Appalachian Arts website.
"It's by far one of the best," said Liz of the seminar. "It's phenomenal."
From 2007 to 2011, the event was held at the former Motion Control lot along Gillis Avenue before moving to downtown Ridgway where the event is still being held today.
All in all, the Rendezvous has seen four different locations as the specs and nature of the event have evolved over the past 15 years.
"I tell people it's like stuffing a monster into a jar," Liz said. "This is a very big event in a very small town and logistically, it's incredible."
In 2011, the featured artist was Jeff Samudosky, who has been described as a quiet presence at the event, yet one of the most talented as well.
"It took us years to figure out who Jeff was," Rick said. "He was so quiet and unassuming."
"He always took first at auction but we always spelled his name wrong," Liz said. "We forgot to put him on the shirt. The third year I made sure I put him on the shirt and when they went to print his name was on the bottom and they dropped it."
His carvings consistently sold for top dollar at the annual auction, and in 2002, he was the first artist to introduce scaffolding, an innovative and never-before-seen project at the Rendezvous. Samudosky carved the large horse that was featured at the festival in 2011, one of the most talked about and celebrated carvings in the event's history.
"He's just an incredible carver," said Liz.
The 2012 Rendezvous featured Brett McClain, a Newark, N.J. carver who frequently hosts international carvers at his home in New Jersey who then caravan together to Ridgway. He has hosted carvers from countries including Scotland, England, Japan, Australia, Thailand, Canada, Germany and Romania as well as the United States. McClain features his carvings in a Newton, N.J. gallery called Freehand Custom Carvings, New Jersey's premier gallery for international wood sculptures.
Randy Boni, a co-founder of the event, was featured in 2013, as he had grown into one of the masters of the art form as well as helped to spread word of the Rendezvous and its various carvers across the globe.
"It was time that he got his dues," Liz said. "He's a fabulous carver."
Randy has also been instrumental as an ambassador for the event throughout the years.
This year, Ridgway's Chainsaw Carvers Rendezvous is celebrating its 15th anniversary and the spotlight is on Scott Dow. Dow carves for Animalistic chainsaw carving studio, located in Corry. His works include the large dinosaur sculpture featured at the Animalistic booth, located in the Country Squirrel Outfitters lot.
Dow is also being featured in the second volume of Groeschen's "The Art of Chainsaw Carving" as one of the artist profiles, along with Ridgway native and carver Zoe Boni.
"The Rendezvous has so many stories," Liz said, addressing the many carvers in the room. "Well for all of you it's art and sculpture, for me it's all about energy and creativity and getting to experience what all of you do on a daily basis."
Carvers as well as area residents are invited to attend seminars that will be put on for the rest of the week at the American Legion. Upcoming presenters include Cheryl Campbell, Todd Gladfelter, Pat Holbert, Alan Martello, and a panel session which will address how the art form of chainsaw carving has changed and what it has meant to panel members as a profession.
"As hard as it is for the family and the town to pull this thing off, it always seems like it's worth it in the end because you keep hearing the history years later and some amazing things that have happened because of the Rendezvous," Rick said.