National Road Carving Festival – guest writer and photographer- Bryce Gladfelter

This very cool chainsaw carving  event supports the Somerset Blind Council- the blind folks come and FEEL the sculptures and vote for the best.

A version of this story appeared in Pennsylvania Magazine.

Bryce Gladfelter

I am easily distracted while wandering through The National Road Chainsaw Carving Festival, in Addison, PA. In the air, is the scent of freshly cut pine wood  mingling with chainsaw fumes. My ears are filled with the ever-present roar of chainsaws running at full throttle, making it sometimes nearly impossible to speak. At my feet, are piles of buff-colored sawdust chips, and chunks of off-fall logs as over forty chainsaw carvers create sculpted works of art. For three days, you can walk the avenues of grass at Addison’s Community Park and watch these works of art emerge. Forty chainsaw carvers from across the nation gravitate to this annual festival to demonstrate this unique art form and sell their creations.

The idea of a festival was the brainchild of Don Winner, a chainsaw carver, and Rob Stemple, who endured a head-on drunk driving collision back in 1989 and lost his sight in the process. Remarkably, Don taught Rob how to chainsaw carve blind (cactus sculptures) and used photos of him to build public interest in the festival. The Somerset Council of the Blind has hundreds of blind folks in need of services, so these Lions Club members took it upon themselves to create this festival to aid their county’s blind. The chainsaw carving festival has brought in $88,000 to date.  County Center for the Blind. One of the more fascinating events in the three-day festival is when a handful of blind folks hand feel a pre-selected group of sculptures which they decide are the best, their favorite.

Ron Stemple says, “What we may “see” with our fingers may not be what actually looks the best to the sighted, but we look for different things in a sculpture. “I feel for detail in the eyes, if the nostrils are carved, if the ears are finished. We may be bypassing fabulous looking sculptures, but this is what we can do.”

Spectators can buy carvings at each carver’s spot that they may have brought along from home, already carved. They can purchase art that was created during that three-day period, or buy pieces at the auction on the last day. Visitors place bids on silent auction items and can purchase a raffle ticket for a chainsaw carving, as well as bid on a favorite piece when the auctioneer turns them loose to the crowd Saturday afternoon.  

There are carved bears in every size and position to choose from, for this animal is the favorite of all animals to carve. Bears lounge on roughhewn rocks, clasp ”Welcome” signs in their paws, and even strum banjos or paddle canoes. Birds of prey fan their massive wings, and the sleek, speckled bodies of leaping salmon compete for your attention and check book. But there is more than animals to choose from: pieces include intricate faces of Native Americans clad in headdresses, and whimsical sculptures like wizard faces. Basically anything the carvers are inspired to make is fair game. These works of art emerge in flurries of sawdust, taking shape almost magically as the wood is removed from the log. You can easily wile away hours just standing there watching the work being created.

The National Road Carving Festival is held June 14, 15, & 16, Thurs-Sat, 8am – 8pm. Visitors number 5-6,000 as they flock to this Lion’s Club sponsored festival.

On permanent display in the park are seven chainsaw carvings purchased by the Confluence Lions Club and donated to the Addision National Road Community Park. The carvings chronicle each of the seven festivals with the date, the carver who created the piece, and all the carvers that participated in that year’s festival.

Carvers pick their logs of choice from truckloads of cut softwood tree lengths and chunks of pine. They shape the wood with their sharp saws, but unlike a sculptor of clay or similar material, every move is irreversible.

The morning air is filled with the smell of sausage frying and coffee brewing, as the Confluence Lions Club Food trailer offers a complete breakfast to the visitors (and tosses more money into the Somerset Center for the blind’s fund). But eating and chainsaw carving gawking aren’t the only activities that a visitor can look forward to. The Lions Club has designed a wonderful family-friendly FREE weekend that includes a parade down Main Street. The highlight for the kids (and those young at heart) is the candy scrabble as the sweets are tossed from the passing vehicles. After the unified roaring of chainsaws dies down, music maintains the energy into Friday evening. Finally, the night culminates in an explosion of fireworks, observed by visitors, proud carvers, and a silent army of newly sculpted creatures. Saturday follows with a chainsaw carving demo, a silent auction, a Carving auction, a raffle drawing, and a closing ceremony.

“The festival is a very welcoming event,” Stemple says, who is now the Community Outreach Coordinator for the Somerset Center for the Blind. “And it gives visitors a chance to watch beautiful art emerge right out of a hunk of tree.”

Check out Todd’s  chainsaw sculptures at:


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