SURE, THE QUALITY OF THEIR work is choppy, and their style can only be described as wooden. But father-and-son artists Skip and Chris Roth of Old Fort, N.C., have learned to rise above such philistine judgments. After all, having opted for the roar of the chainsaw over the methodical thunk of the chisel, the two have carved a peculiar niche for themselves in the art world with their sculptures of eagles, raccoons, dancing bears and even the king of beasts, Elvis.
Logging an estimated 60,000 miles a year in their Isuzu Trooper, the Roths peddle their wares while performing at home centers and festivals all over America. "Sometimes we'll sell and sell until our arms are shot," says Chris, 21. Commanding up to $2,400 per work—the pieces take an average of 4-to-5 hours to carve and paint—the Roths are happy to saw items to order. A pastor in Gastonia, N.C., ordered a pulpit in the shape of an eagle with wings spread; less demanding patrons have requested wooden replicas of pets large and small. Says Tom Oddo, who has seven Roths, including an 8-foot-tall cowboy, in his Christiansburg, Va., restaurant: "People look at them and wonder how they got those little lines with a chainsaw." Skip, 50, who works without even preliminary sketches, says the pieces just take a little imagination—and a powerful arm. "If you have to finish it off with a hand tool," he says disdainfully, "it's not chainsaw art."
A former graphic artist, Skip was getting by doing odd jobs in 1979 when, inspired by the works of English sculptor Henry Moore, he began experimenting with his chainsaw while building the log cabin he shares with wife Trudy, 50, daughter Linda, 16, and Chris. (Daughter Ann, 19, is a college student in Spin-dale, N.C.). First carving a shapely brunette he named Matilda, Skip honed his skills on the poplars that grow on the family's 60-acre spread. Encouraged by the response of local people, he began to tour full-time in 1990. Chris, who had been sawing away with Rodin-like zeal since he was about 10, paired up with Skip three years ago.
The two plan on selling $120,000 in sculptures this year, but Chris is hungrier for recognition than for money. Having worked as an extra alongside Daniel Day-Lewis in 1992's The Last of the Mohicans, he wants to be as famous as the stars whose signatures he collected on the set. "I'm saving the autographs," he says, "because someday I hope they'll ask me for mine."
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