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  • Writer's pictureHelen Avaient

South Dakota chainsaw art is a cut above

Updated: Oct 22, 2023

Travelling through the Black Hills I saw some amazing sights. One of the amazing sights though was man made. It was the chainsaw art at several locations, Deadwood, Hill City, Keystone and Wall. Here, true artists carve life and beauty back into dead trees.

Bears, eagles and other animals feature prominently in their designs. The whimsical make appearances to in the shape of gigantic yetis.

a giant wood carving of the mythical creature, they YETI. This is all carved out of one pieces of wood and stands at least nine feet tall, or around two metres. the YETI is baring his teeth and has an angry look on his face, he is carved to look like he is strolling along, one leg is half raised and the long arms are caught mid swing.

Each three dimensional piece is unique, as are the natural materials used to carve from. Each piece is treated after carving, to prolong its life.

two cute bear cubs have been chainsaw carved out of wood. a coat of varnish makes them appear white with big round black eyes staring out. the bears are each posed sitting down.

In the Wall location, a 40 foot tall giant jackalope can be entered and stairs spiral their way up inside. 71 wood spirits have been carved inside. Can you find all 71? What exactly is a jackalope though? This creature does not exist in the real world. It is half jack rabbit and half antelope.

a forty foot tall jackalope is made of wood.  people can climb up inside it and reach a balcony near his neck. He has the words Believe carved into wood around his neck. The wood is rough bark and looks like fur. Two big antlers are on his head, either side of his ears.

Brothers Jarrett and Jordan Dahl are the owners of Dahl's Chain Saw Art and their building took just 21 days to construct. The exterior is made of barked logs, giving it a fur like appearance. The entry door is amazing!

the wooden door of the giant wooden jackalope structure has been carved out of wood with a chainsaw. It has the face like a mythological gld. His hair and beard from from his face, north south east and west to completely surround his face and totally cover the door. it has then been treated and gives off a slight shine.

Inside the smell of freshly carved wood is delightful, and made of ponderosa pine, cedar, oak and many other types of wood. Over 3,000 pieces went into the construction. Climbing up the interior stairs and being amazed at the carvings of not just those wood spirits, but animals, mythical creatures and South Dakota landmarks. Then you reach a balcony where you can gaze out at not much, just a higher view of the town of Wall and the street below. But it isn't the destination that was important in this climb, but the picturesque internal journey. I couldn't find all 71 reported wood spirits, some of them are elusive!

inside the forty foot wooden jackalope structure are several floors. stairs lead from one to the other and all the posts and banisters are carved with creatures, both real and mythological. Painted scenes of the south dakota landscape are on the inner walls.

Outdoors, the word Believe is carved in wood under the creatures hands. Does that mean to believe in unexplained creatures, or believe in yourself? I think it would be a different interpretation for each person seeing it. That is what art is about. We can all see the same thing but get a different expectation and experience from it.

I had the pleasure of speaking to chainsaw artist Shane onsite at Wall. Shane hails from California and is here for a few weeks, sharing his talents. He was very informative and described how he saw each piece before he carved it.

the area where the wood is carved into creatures with a chainsaw. wooden eagles sit perched on longs, buffalo are carved. fresh pieces of wood wait their turn. the floor is coated with the sawdust from the carvings.

Yet, at times he said the wood just knew what it wanted to become, and he was just there to facilitate that. He had been carving some amazing eagles just that day.

an eagle has been chainsaw carved from one piece of wood. he stands on the wood looking to the west, his chest puffed out, his wings behind him. the natural imperfections of the wood can be seen, as can splits in the wood. This is nature becoming a representation of another natural creature. fierce and proud.

Being able to watch the sculptures being skillfully carved is intriguing. The only sad thing is that none of these sculptures would fit in my travelling suitcase. Shane said they could organise delivery to people's homes though. Very tempting! For now, I will just have to enjoy visiting Dahls art and enjoying the pieces here.

When in the area, I also recommend visiting:

Wall Drug in the nearby town of Wall

map of where Wall is in relation to Rapid City

Happy Travels!

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