BANDON — “In 2008, Brian installed a wood-burning stove,” said his wife, Zada Vorwaller. “And he said, ‘If you buy me a chainsaw, I will carve you a bear.’ So, I bought him (us) a cheap chainsaw, he chopped some wood, then he carved my bear, and the chain saw promptly broke.”
Brian Vorwaller’s mother was an artist who passed her love of art onto her son before she tragically died. He was only 13 years old. In high school he took every art, pottery and wood shop class available.
Realizing that artists’ dreams rarely come true, he became a glazier working his way up the trade. When the economy dropped, so did his hours. With a house, three cats, three dogs, a goat and two children to support, it was scary.
“We lost our home so we took the kids, dogs, and two chainsaws and moved into a 36-foot motor home. My sister took the cats and goat,” said Vorwaller. “It has been an emotional ride.”
In the 2011 Oregon Divisional Chainsaw Sculpting Championships, Vorwaller’s first competition, he was placed in the pro division. “I was thrilled at the honor to compete with the other carvers,” said Vorwaller, “my goal was to complete a piece. Imagine my surprise at placing fourth! This spurred us on to continue our dreams. Being an artist and paying bills is daunting. When (we’re) discouraged, our children, Sydney, 11-years-old, and Roman, 12-years-old, spontaneously hug us, and tell us how proud they are of us for ‘following our dreams’.”
“Brian is self taught,” said Zada, “and he’s furthered his gift from observing other carvers. His carvings of people and pets are so look-alike that we see tears upon recognition. He studies photographs and compassionately inserts intricate expressions and personalities into the wood.”
One customer surprised her father by commissioning pieces of his two deceased bull mastiff’s.
“We planned the surprise unveiling at an outside event,” Vorwaller recalled. “The minute he saw ‘his’ dogs he recognized them and exclaimed, ‘My girls!’ It was emotional for everyone. Another gentleman teared up upon seeing his carved companion of 17 years, a dachshund.”
Vorwaller also excels at carving wildlife.
“As long as the wood allows it, I’ll carve it!” said Vorwaller.
One favorite piece is the 9-foot-tall Sasquatch that welcomes customers to their store just south of Bandon.
Vorwaller’s gift for carving realistic animals into furniture is breathtaking. He has carved horses, elk, a life-size cheetah, a howling wolf and bears into benches and lamps. He also custom carved a 9-foot-bear that holds a 22-foot waterway log built into a family’s pond’s waterfall.
“The entire concept and danger of carving with a chain saw is exhilarating,” said Vorwaller, “I love the challenge and of working with the wood’s interesting features and beautiful grains. I become one with the wood. I walk around it, feel it, size it up, study the grain and the knots. I can picture the heart of the wood and structure of what I want to do. It is then up to me to bring it to life.”
The 10-foot carving of the pelican on a pier surrounded by turtles, star fish and sea horses emerged from a crazy looking Douglas fir log. The log had big burls, so its texture swirls like waves around the sea creatures.
“While carving, I am totally lost in my imagination as I carve out the animals’ characters and personalities.”
“Human and animal faces fascinate me,” he added. “Creating custom pieces for customers inspires me to excel. So I combine the two to touch people for an emotional response. As a surprise to a mother whose daughter, Brandy, passed, I did a memorial piece. Brandy loved mermaids, so I immortalized her into the wood as a mermaid. I worked on it for a year in my spare time. Once done, we invited her mother over and explained, through her tears, that it was our gift to her. It was a challenging piece, but I wanted to honor a mother in her time of loss.”
That mermaid now sits on the Port of Bandon boardwalk, along with several other Vorwaller sculptures.
“When we acquire our wood frugally we pass the savings on to customers,” Vorwaller explained. “If you have any extra wood, let me know. The bigger the better!”
The couple’s shop, The Woodcarver’s Wife Gallery & Gift Shop, is located at 49044, Highway 101 in Bandon. Visit their Facebook pages at facebook.com/ArtistExtreme and /TheWoodcarvers Wife.
(Mary Ellen Schesser, www.Angel Scribe.com, is a weekly pet columnist, writing Pet Tips ‘n’ Tales for the Cottage Grove Sentinel, an inspirational writer and author of two best-selling books. She lives in Cottage Grove with her husband and four cats, who have been featured on Animal Planet’s Must Love Cats.) www.AngelScribe.com.