WINTERSET, Iowa — For 150 years, City Park has hosted picnics, field trips, and quiet strolls. Winterset has come here to escape the chaos of the wide world.
Okay, so this spring has been a little different.
Gary Keenan has been here.
“I choose subjects in this instance based on the size of the tree,” he says. Keenan is a chainsaw artist, hired by the city.
Maybe you’ve seen him at the State Fair. If you did, you probably stopped.
There’s something about watching this marriage between power and precision — destruction and detail.
“Most of the tree carvings I do along that size I can do in a day,” he says.
Winterset has had to focus on loss this spring. It’s nice to finally gain.
“We thought it’d be a great way to add another attraction,” says Sky Smothers, who runs the parks in town. He’d been dealing with a familiar problem — the emerald ash borer.
“These trees were dead and diseased and needed to come down,” says Smothers, “and we’re just trying to be good stewards so those other trees will remain.”
While most got a clean cut, seven of the park’s ash trees were left to Gary and his imagination.
“I always have new ideas and new angles I want to try,” Keenan says.
“I’ve done the two squirrels (and actually there’s a third squirrel peaking out of the hollow),” Keenan says. “The large perched eagle. There’s five owls in that tree. And next up is the bunny rabbit looking up at the butterfly.”
“People may want a cartoony rabbit, but nobody asks for a cartoony eagle. They want the eagle to be serious.”
Speaking of serious — imagine Keenan’s focus.
Not only wielding a dangerous power tool, but he gets just one chance at each cut.
There’s no starting over.
“I grew up on a farm,” Keenan says, “so I’m used to working with tools and being outside. This is a good fit for that.”
Before he’s finished he’ll add two gnomes, a Winterset Husky — and another name to his long list of happy customers.
“What is taking place now exceeded our expectations by 1000%,” Smothers smiles.
Life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. It gives you dead trees, you call Gary Keenan — and cover your ears.
Check out more of Gary’s work on his website.