Who We Are: Whittling on a grand scale
SUMMIT DAILY NEWS
Mark Mahorney earned his degree in economics and worked as a freelance financial writer and web designer for six years before he began carving out another living.
Little did he know that when he began cutting trees to make money on the side, it would lead to an entirely different career: As he cut beetle kill down, homeowners kept asking him if they knew someone who could carve the stumps, so he tried his hand at it. And, apparently, he did quite well. For the last four years, people have been hiring Mahorney to create sculptures from the dead pine trees, killed by the pine beetle, in their yards. Right now, he has about 12 months of stump carving lined up.
He never intended on being an “artist,” and he still doesn’t consider himself very creative.
“I’m more mathematical than creative,” he said, explaining that he envisions his sculptures in terms of grids, blocking designs out, breaking them down into smaller and smaller chunks, then cutting away at tree trunks with a chain saw before carving the fine details of foxes, owls, hawks, squirrels, totem poles, Vikings, cowboys, bears and other characters with knives and chisels. “I just have ideas pop into my head, but it’s not me thinking about it creatively.”
Nevertheless, his artistic leanings are prompting him to take his carving skills further, by making log banister pedestals, relief carvings, ranch gateways and high-end furniture – as soon as he finishes the backlog of beetle kill people want him to transform. In fact, Mahorney and his wife, Christine (who works as the Silverthorne Pavilion coordinator) moved from Denver to Kremmling six years ago because the town is centrally located between the Silverthorne and Breckenridge region, as well as Steamboat Springs and Winter Park – all areas he intends upon tapping into to sell his work. He just hasn’t had time to grow his market in the two latter places, because Summit takes up all his time. Of course, the couple moved to the mountains to enjoy all its recreational opportunities as well, including dirt biking in the summer with their 11-year-old son and hiking.
Even throughout the winter, Mahorney keeps carving tree trunks, though he did spend a couple weeks carving snow for the annual Snowflake Challege, which he won first place for his bench with a Viking skier on it.
Mahorney’s interest in carving has its roots in whittling with his grandfather, who lived in the Ozarks and carved for 30 years.
“I always drew and whittled, but I never took it seriously,” Mahorney said.
However, his grandfather fashioned hundreds of pieces – though they usually measured less than about a foot tall. But Mahorney didn’t find it very difficult to translate the task into gigantic proportions.
“It’s the same, just the tools are larger,” he said. “And the wood is not always ideal. It’s round, and you can’t draw a picture on it; you have to visualize it … other than that, you just go with it and live with whatever the tree wants.”
His pieces range from $400 to $2,000 and up, depending on size and detail. Last summer, he made things like an 8-foot goat, which he painted, and two cowboys in a shoot-out. And, he’s still brainstorming ideas.
“I want to come up with more fun things,” he said. “The hardest part is, sometimes, when I’m coming up with designs, there is more time involved than people realize. I try to come up with original designs. I haven’t carved the same thing twice.”
He draws his idea first, and show his customers, warning them the actual sculpture will vary. His largest work so far, at a Blue River home, is a 20-foot totem, which depicts the ecosystem, including an eagle and fish on top, with a tumbling stream – complete with trout – and other animals frolicking throughout the trunk.
To preserve his work, he installs rods in the tree bases to wick fungicides up the trunks, to keep them from rotting, then coats the pieces with linseed oil and a final coat of log-home sealer.
His sculptures “never turn out the way I think they’re going to turn out,” he said, “but they’re still fun and lively.”
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