Artist makes magic from wood

Looking a little like Santa himself, Bill Lehmbeck displays a seven-foot Santa carved by fellow chainsaw artist Larry Carter. The delightful carvings of Lehmbeck and two other artists are for sale at Lehmbeck's shop, Chainsaw Art, in Country Village.
Photo by Anne Schefter/Woodinville Weekly.

chainsaw art by Anne Schefter
Some people look at a piece of wood and see just that. But to chainsaw artist Bill Lehmbeck, there's potential art in that chunk of wood.
   Lehmbeck carves impish bear cubs and other Northwest features such as whales and fish with the noisy tool most people associate with firewood cutting. He has been creating this type of art for 20 years.
   "I watched another carver carve one day and just decided I was going to do it. I had a lot of experience working with chain saws and wood. I was in the remodeling business as a carpenter and had also done a lot of firewood cutting for my wood stove. So I just went ahead and started carving.
   "Almost anybody could do this if they really wanted to, if they know how to run a chain saw properly and safely," said Lehmbeck. "But it really depends on how much talent they have to begin with." Lehmbeck said he had no art background himself.
   As proprietor of a shop called Chainsaw Art at Country Village, where he has carved and sold his work for the past eight years, Lehmbeck allows two other chainsaw artists to display and sell their art at his shop as well.
   Lehmbeck said the actual carving of pieces is fairly quick, but the search for wood and its preparation are long processes. When loggers fell a cedar tree, they call Lehmbeck, who goes to the site to get the wood.
   He looks for choice grain in the wood to make his whale and fish carvings. "The flat grain makes good fish," he said. After being carved, the wood then needs to be burned and brushed. The bear cubs are painted.
   Lehmbeck said the larger carvings such as the cubs make attractive lawn and porch decorations; the whales, fish, little evergreen trees, and other Northwest-themed items are designed as decorative wall hangings.
   "The majority of stuff I sell is to out-of-staters," Lehmbeck said. "People come here from all over the country. They really like this art and think it's unique.
   "I'm having a wonderful time doing this," said Lehmbeck, who will be 67 in March. "I just have a lot of fun and get to meet an awful lot of wonderful people. I'm not trying to get rich, and I'm just subsidizing my Social Security a little. This is wonderful therapy for me. Country Village has been real good to me," said Lehmbeck.
   He said during the Mariner playoff games, people crowded around his shop for tailgate parties. (In addition to a television, his shop is equipped with a barbecue, refrigerator, and a heater).
   An animal lover as well as a "people person," Lehmbeck maintains a hen house and pens for the many barnyard fowl that roam Country Village. "People just dump them here," said the artist. Right now Lehmbeck is caring for orphaned chicks in the hen house. He also takes home stray dogs wandering around the shopping center until he finds their owners.
   Lehmbeck, who resides in Tukwila with his wife, displays and sells his artwork at the Evergreen State Fair in Monroe each year.