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By ANNETTE HARVISON
Art begins as a vision. One person takes an inanimate object and brings life to it. Some artists use paint and a canvas, some use a lump of clay to mold and shape intrinsic works of art and some people like to create lifelike works of art by carving wood.
For those of you that have taken a drive along Hwy. 63 near Sand Hill in the past week, you may have noticed a a larger-than-life wood sculpture of a Bald Eagle. This symbol of American patriotism came to life because someone saw a work of art and found the right artists to bring it to life.
Sand Hill resident Susan Wood had just such a vision and found Greene County native and renowned chainsaw sculptor Dayton Scoggins to share it with. The two traded ideas and out of that collaboration and an old pecan tree in Wood’s yard became a Great Bald Eagle.
Woods and her husband Dennis are originally from the Midwest and moved to Mississippi in 1983. Susan said the couple lived in Gautier until three years ago when they bought the house alongside Hwy. 63 in Sand Hill.
The Woods became concerned about a large pecan tree near the road and decided the best option was to have it cut down. The power company cut the tree, and the Woods were left with a large tree trunk in their yard. Susan said she could see a wonderful carving being created from the trunk, however the couple did not have the skills to do such a job. So, Susan began researching chainsaw sculptors and found a man in Sandersville with a great reputation and a portfolio with a ‘wow’ factor.
“We had seen carvings done by him along the coast,” Susan said, “but we didn’t know his name.”
“I looked for a local person who could carve the trunk but couldn’t find any,” Susan continued, “and it was a surprise to find out he was born in Greene County and went to school in Sand Hill.”
Scoggins has traveled the world showing off his talent and skill, even coming home with a world championship from Germany, not just once, but twice. His chainsaw sculptures are more than wood carvings. Scoggins has a toolbox like a painter has a paint box, a plethora of tools to create depth and details. He has a selection of saws and a few other tools needed for fine tuning, wielding them in a concentrated fury to keep up with the speed of the saw yet be steady and precise.
The journey into chainsaw sculpting began 18 years ago when Scoggins was a tow boat captain. He met a lady that helped him see his dream and go for it. His wife, Michelle, has been by his side each step and is also his agent. Scoggins has turned his passion and talent into his career, and with that, he has been able to travel not only the United States, but also the world. He has made many friends and has worked with other chainsaw sculptors to create fantastic works of art for national and state parks. The Forestry Commission will often invite Scoggins to attend events, giving him the opportunity to create Smokey the Bear.
While Scoggins was carving away at the sculpture, his wife sat down to talk about their journey in the world of chainsaw artistry. She said she was the one that gave him the push to pursue his art.
“We have been all over the world,” Michelle said. “We go to fairs, conventions, events, and he does custom jobs like this. This is how we make a living.”
Michelle said they started out at the Pennsylvania Ridgway Chainsaw Convention, and it was there the couple met with other carvers to learn how to make a living creating his art. While at the convention, Scoggins met a sculptor who invited him to travel out west to compete in a competition because the sculptor saw potential.
“In the beginning, we went to a lot of competitions,” Michelle said. “They were good for keeping up his skills.”
His skills are fantastic. He began with a tree trunk, plain and round. I saw the trunk many times in my travels, and when he began to carve and give the trunk shape, I was amazed. I wondered how he could see the end before even getting started. I wondered how he knew it would work. I watched as he wielded a chainsaw inches from his body, in quick motions here and there, nothing like sawing through a tree. He did not draw or paint an outline of what to carve, he just began carving.
I asked Michelle what his largest carved sculpture has been, and she said he carved a 40-feet high dragon with several other ornate details at the Glenwood Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
“He enjoys wildlife carvings,” Michelle said. “He can do people, Indians, mermaids and angels. He is known for his buck-deer and otters.”
Scoggins was on an episode of Duck Dynasty in its last season. His recent competition in Libby, Mont., earned him second place, and in June he will travel to Canada to compete in a competition there. He enjoys carving custom jobs as well, so if you have an old log lying around or a large tree stump that could add some beauty to your landscape, Scoggins is available.
Several spectators stopped by last Monday to catch a glimpse of the work in progress and some took photos of the incredible work taking place on the roadside. Some of those spectators were former teachers that could remember teaching a young Scoggins. Susan said during the last week several more people have stopped to gaze at the work of art, and some have even gotten out to take photos. And in honor of the Iron Bowl, Susan said someone asked her if the eagle was the ‘War Eagle.’
“To us, the eagle stands for American patriotism and American freedom,” Susan said. “Feel free to stop and look. Get out and take some photos and come up and say hello.”
The Woods said they were thrilled they found someone with ties to the county to do the sculpture. They said they couldn’t be more pleased with his work and recommend him to anyone looking for a chainsaw artist.
If you are interested in checking out Scoggins’ work, you can find him on Facebook at Artistry in Wood/Dayton Scoggins.