Marty Long spent most of Thanksgiving weekend in a Berwyn parking lot along Route 30, chainsawing big blocks of white pine tree trunks into sculptures of bears, owls, and other forest critters.
Wearing protective sunglasses and sound-blocking ear muffs, Long, coated in sawdust, and fellow carver Jaz Katz, who call themselves Team Uprooted, worked in tandem to the steady whine of their chain saws. They used 36-inch chain saws for the rough work and six-inch chain saws for the finer details, such as a beehive hanging from a branch while its honey drips toward the upraised mouth of a bear leaning against the tree trunk.
On Sunday, Long and Katz revved up their chain saws at Long's outdoor workshop/gallery on Buckwalter Road in Phoenixville, putting the finishing touches on the honey-obsessed bear sculpture, one of several wildlife tableaux they are making as Christmas gifts, for sale at $300 to $500.
Massive sections of white pine, oak, and walnut tree trunks stood in the pastures surrounding the workshop, awaiting Long's vision and his chain saws. One of his tall wooden bears stood at the workshop entrance holding a "Welcome" sign.
Long, 50, who grew up in Frazer, has come a long way from his early career in the 1990s as a catering chef who carved flowers out of melons, then graduated to ice carving with electric chain saws.
"I didn't know any better," he said innocently. "I thought ice carving was part of being a chef." He paused for a moment, then laughed. "OK," he said, "the real answer is I discovered that chicks dig it."
By 1998, he was chain-saw-savvy enough to win a silver medal at the World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks, Alaska, with his 20-foot-tall Thief of the Sun sculpture of a woman riding on frozen flames above a sphere of ice.
That same year, he married his wife, Pam, after winning her heart during the winter by carving a Cupid out of ice and leaving it on her doorstep.
At their wedding reception, he cut the cake with a chain saw. If that sounds messy, it wasn't, he said: "It was an electric, 12-inch saw, and I cut two slices, just like you would [with] a knife."
Long said he moved from ice to wood after a chance meeting with Josh Lord at the Phoenixville tree surgeon's Christmas tree lot. Lord had an old carved bear out front that people were inquiring about. He asked if Long could carve wood statues.
"I said, 'How do you do it, dude?' " Long recalled. "He said, 'I don't know. But if you can figure it out, I've got a list of customers who want one.' "
So Long taught himself by studying chain saw sculpting videos, then attempting to craft a bear. "First, I had the bear walking up the rocks," Long said. "That didn't work, so I had the bear walking down the rocks. That didn't work either." The more he tried to fix it, Long said, the smaller and more bent over the bear got. Finally, when the bear looked like it was peeing in the woods, Long gave up and put it on his mantelpiece, a reminder always to stay humble about his chainsawing skills.
Those skills, honed in Lord's Christmas tree lot, quickly improved to the point where Long spends most of his time now sculpting dead trunks still rooted in the ground, turning them into 20-foot and taller forest spirits with natural ivy hair, a huge bear sitting or standing on a stump, owls perched on tree trunks or peering out from their hollows, herons and flamingos, dragons, fairies with delicate wings, and a wide range of people, from frontier-era Native Americans to a Gloucester fisherman in his rain slicker.
While much of Long's work is on private estates, he gave second life to the dying 300-year-old Bender oak in the Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College by chainsawing its massive trunk into an enduring leaf sculpture.
In Conshohocken, the Ciavarelli family, compelled to cut down two beloved but dangerous ancient oaks, hired Long to chainsaw one into an American Eagle perched on the tree's stump in front of the Ciavarelli Funeral Home and the other into a Lenape Indian statue that the family donated to Borough Hall.
Whether he is immortalizing dead old trees, making Christmas and Mother's Day statues, or doing live shows on the Maryland fair circuit during the warmer months, Long is chainsawing all the time.
"I do this because I don't know how to do anything else," he said, grinning, covered with the dust of his trade. "Really. That's the truth. I don't."