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Carve Wars comes to Purgatory for fifth year

Johnny Busby works on his wolf on Saturday as he competes in Carve Wars, a chainsaw art competition at Purgatory Resort. The event continues from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
Chainsaw art competition benefits Ignacio private school

The deafening hum of chainsaws carried across the plaza at Purgatory Resort last weekend as Carve Wars raged.

Carve Wars is a traveling chainsaw art competition that travels all around the country, from coast to coast. This was the competition’s fifth year at Purgatory, said Joe Wernal, an organizer of the tour. The event began Friday and went through Sunday.

“It’s an auction-based competition, and so everything they carve gets auctioned off, and whoever does highest in the auction total gets first place, and so on and so forth,” he said.

Ken Braun puts a little fire to his creation as he competes in Carve Wars on Saturday. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Each Carve Wars competition benefits a local charity. Each carver donates a piece, and whatever those pieces bring in the auction goes to the charity, Wernal said.

This year, the local charity is Hope Community Christian Academy, a private satellite school in Ignacio that splits home and in-person schooling, said Maggie Reed, who is on the board of the school and is in charge of fundraising.

Reed’s husband, Travis, a carver with 22 years of experience competed last weekend. The Reeds used to travel a lot for carving shows, Maggie said, and got involved with Carve Wars when it first came to the area. This led to this year’s mutually beneficial partnership between Carve Wars and the school.

Many pieces of carved artwork by competitors are on sale at Purgatory Resort. Carve Wars is a competition, with rankings based on which artist gets the highest total when their work is auctioned off. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“I know the work that goes into them putting this on and the work the carvers put in, and so I was like the least we can do is feed them, clean up for them, make sure they have water and help out as much as they can,” she said. “I think it’s cool for the kids to come up, too, to see a unique way to make money ... and be exposed to this form of art, and for us to give back to the carvers since they chose us as their charity.”

Johnny Busby, a competitor from Woodland Park, said the competition was going well, with a good turnout of people and relatively good weather early in the day – at least on Friday and Saturday.

“Everybody seems to be picking up quite a few pieces,” he said.

Joe Srholez carves a boot with some of his recent work in front of him Saturday as he competes in Carve Wars at Purgatory Resort. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Unlike most, Busby, who has 15 years of carving experience – putting him on the lower end among competitors, was taking his time on just two pieces: a large eagle with an American flag and a wolf. He strategically puts in a bit more time and thought and stays away from falling into patterns.

“Most of these guys, they’ll kick out 20 to 30 pieces,” he said. “I’m not that fast, I can’t keep up with them.”

Wernal said most of the pieces carved for the competition are what people expect to see – including familiar carvings such as bears, birds and fish.

“That’s what’s different about our show,” he said. “Because it’s auction-based, we’re carving a whole lot of things people are going to want to buy and walk away with – compared to other competitions where they carve these giant sculptures that everyone likes but no one has the room nor the money nor the means to get it home.”

Reed said some of the most interesting sculptures she has seen were Groot from “Guardians of the Galaxy” and difficult-to-carve animals, such as the mountain lion a competitor carved for this year’s competition.

“Cats are really hard to carve to look realistic like that,” she said.

Jacob Lucas works on a heron Saturday at Purgatory Resort. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
Joe Srholez uses several different chainsaws Saturday as he competes in Carve Wars at Purgatory Resort. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Wernal said chainsaw carving is an art that everyone gets into in a different way.

“A lot of guys are self-taught, some guys were apprentices to other carvers, but everybody’s going to tell you to just get a log and give it a try,” he said. “Everybody’s burned their first carvings. No one picked up a chainsaw and was just a master carver, that just doesn’t happen.”

Tree trunks are provided for the competitors during Carve Wars at Purgatory Resort. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Wernal said he started carving after he ruptured both of his Achilles tendons.

“I started to build log furniture, then I got into carving and I loved it, and it took off,” he said. “I’ve been carving now for 10 years. One day, I started to put on my own show in Rifle, called it Carve Wars, next thing you know, my phone is ringing. I’d traveled all over the country within a year.”


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