Somewhere between Clarksburg and Salem, an 8-foot tall Sasquatch hides in the woods. This one, however, won't run away from curious camera carriers.
This particular Big Foot was the vision of chainsaw carving artist Andy Kerns, and the Lewis County man whittled it out of a rotting stump at the request of the landowner.
"I had to go on the Internet and get a bunch of pictures of Big Foot," said Kerns, who still calls the creation the strangest request he ever received. "I let them choose what features they wanted, and we just went with that."
Kerns has been exclusively carving with his chainsaw for about a dozen years, abandoning the cabinet making job he held for a number of years in Lorain, Ohio. His family had roots in Weston, so he decided to pack up for those West Virginia hills where he can fire up his chainsaw at all hours of the night and work in peaceful solitude without disturbing any neighbors.
"I live on the mountain where there is nobody around," the 37-year-old man said. "At times, you get overbooked, and you have to work all hours to get them all done. I'll do it in the driveway under a tent."
He used to do about 35 fairs or festivals a year, but rising gasoline prices forced him to cut back to about 20 annually. He'll set up shop for a longer event such as the Mountain State Forest Festival in Elkins or the Lewis County Fair in Jackson's Mill and wile away the hours turning logs into lighthouses, tree trunks into totem poles.
"I do over a hundred different items," he said. "The lighthouses are the most popular. I just started doing those this summer, and I can't keep enough of them. The further east I go, I sell more bears. In the west and the south, it's lighthouses and potbelly stoves. And eagles, I love doing eagles."
Kerns said he can carve most any item from a picture, and he does travel to homes to do carvings on old stumps in the yard. The carvings can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 60 hours, depending on the size and the amount of intricate detail involved. His prices range anywhere from $40 to $4,000 per carving, and if he travels to a place within West Virginia, it starts at $150 per foot.
Kerns' literally carving out his own niche in the world came about as the result of a dare. He had been fascinated by another man's chainsaw carving in Ohio, and he inquired as to how to do something like that.
"The guy told me that I couldn't do it," Kerns recalled. "So I went home and started carving. I don't think he thought I had it in me."
His first carving was of a Native American Indian head, just a small thing standing about 2 feet tall.
"I sold that piece right after I finished it," he said, and with that he was hooked. "I quit my job and moved to West Virginia. I had a house down here already built. My dad is from Weston, and he moved back down here after he retired from General Motors. I moved down and started carving."
His work is completely environmentally compatible. From the stumps he makes into art to the aftermath generated by the carving, nothing goes to waste. A friend uses the shavings as bedding for growing portobello mushrooms. The larger chunks are burned in Kerns' stove at home.
"My house is totally heated by wood," he said.