CHAIN-SAW CARVING Akron artist cuts out creative career for himself

Most of his pieces range from $20 into the hundreds of dollars.
AKRON -- Some artists work in oils. Some work in clay or watercolors.
George M. Yatsko works in logs.
Yatsko is a chain-saw artist, who carves tree trunks and branches into likenesses of bears, eagles, elephants or anything else that captures his fancy. He deftly wields his power saw to shape blocks of wood down to the smallest features -- an eye, a nose, an indentation to represent fur or feathers.
The 27-year-old Hinckley Township, Ohio, resident first encountered chain saw carving visiting the Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Show in Hocking, Ohio, when he was a high school student, and he was intrigued.
"I just started by messing around," he said. A decade of trial and error later, he's honed his skills to the point where he has even created likenesses of President Bush and Sens. George Voinovich and Mike DeWine on a totem pole for a Broadview Heights, Ohio, company.
It's an unlikely creative outlet for someone who insists he "always did horrible in art." His art teacher at Hinckley Elementary School, Joan Zacharias, encouraged him, he said, and she now helps him occasionally by making sketches of some of the more complicated images he wants to carve.
There's nothing he won't try, he said. "People ask me, 'Can you do this? Can you do that?' And I say, 'Sure, I'll give it a try."'
The results of his labors are kept in a dim storage area on his family's farm. One by one, he pulls them out -- dolphins and eagles, bears and cactuses, the likeness of a Native American in a headdress. Of course, there are also a couple of buzzards, the symbol of his hometown.
Some of the carvings are in a rough, unfinished state. Others gleam with the polyurethane coating that brings out the wood's rich reddish-brown or golden hues.
Yatsko's favorite woods to work are cherry and black walnut, though any hardwood will suffice, he said. Softwoods won't do, because they contain too much water and can crack extensively as they dry out.
Occasionally he'll gather wood to carve from the tree-removal business he operates, but most of the trees he's hired to take down are already rotting and no longer suitable. More often, his materials come from trees he harvests from his family's 100 acres or from people who know about his carving and offer him wood.
All Yatsko's carving is done with a chain saw, then he uses a propane torch to darken the details and give the piece depth. A sander is used to smooth the figure before he finishes it with polyurethane.
Word of mouth
Yatsko is often asked to demonstrate his carving at fairs and other events, and he sells his artwork there. Much of his business has come from word of mouth, however, such as the couple from Cincinnati who saw one of his bears when they were visiting friends, ordered one for themselves and drove across the state to pick up the finished figure.
Most of his pieces range from $20 into the hundreds of dollars, but a larger, more complex project can command even more.
One of his proudest accomplishments is an eagle he created for a customer. Yatsko took his cues for the sculpture from the tree's form, two main limbs branching from the trunk in a Y shape. The trunk became the bird's body perched on a stump; the branches became wings stretching skyward.
The eagle took him three full days of work, plus additional time here and there when he could fit it in.
A small carving might take only a couple of hours, he said, "as long as you keep your saw sharp."
Yatsko has also had customers ask him to make carvings from trees with special meaning. He once removed a tree that had grown on a family's property for years and was asked to turn the branches into bears, one for each of the now-grown children.
He puts his stylized initials onto each piece and his heart into his work. His favorite part, he said, is the reactions he gets from his customers.
"I like seeing the people happy," he said.